Food Service & Agriculture, Small Business & Startups, and Sustainability

Healthier snacks from smarter machines

Young entrepreneur studied vending machine management at MSU.

December 29, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Healthier snacks from smarter machines
Courtesy Sprout Healthy Vending
A few months ago, after a lot of research and a trip to California to meet the people at Sprout Healthy Vending, David and Arryn Hansen took the plunge and invested in “a little start-up to see if it will catch on.”

The Hansens are the proud new owners of a string of 17 Sprout Healthy vending machines going on line in January at schools, hospitals, YMCAs and other health-minded facilities in West Michigan, from Holland to Forest Hills to Coopersville. David Hansen is aware of only one other Sprout franchise in Michigan, which is on the east side of the state.

“Our focus, obviously, is on healthier snacks” than normally found in a vending machine, said Hansen. The emphasis is on organic ingredients, fewer artificial dyes, less fat, less salt, less sugar — the whole nine yards. A lot of familiar brand names associated with “healthier” foods are in the Sprout machines.

Hansen, who will turn 27 in January, is an account manager in sales for a national corporation. Arryn also works in sales, for a glove company. Those are their day jobs, of course. This is their first true “on-the-books” business venture, and their total investment so far is probably approaching $150,000, according to David.

“Our machines are about as smart a technology as you can have in the vending world,” he said.

They are Energy Star, so they don’t use much electricity. They accept debit cards as well as credit cards. The system is a “guaranteed vend,” meaning there is an automatic refund if it doesn’t produce the goods. And the machines are smart: One that is running low on snacks will notify Hansen via his computer. “We’re actually going to fill machines based on actual need, not a route schedule.”

A typical purchase from a Sprout machine ranges from a dollar to $1.25. It does cost a little more than the typical candy bar or bag of chips from the usual vending machine, conceded Hansen, but people who want to eat healthier have long demonstrated a willingness to pay more for it.

The Hansens are natives of Midland. David graduated from Michigan State with a hospitality business management degree and is now working on a master’s at Western Michigan University in organizational communication, when he isn’t working his day job or the nights and weekends job. Arryn went to Central Michigan University and studied public relations and journalism.

David has long been familiar with the hospitality industry. His father is a partner in a hospitality business and on the board of the Michigan Restaurant Association.

He likes to point out that he is probably one of the few vending machine operators who actually earned college credit in a vending machine management course.

“My wife and I began making changes to our diets and lifestyles not long after graduating from college,” he said.

Sprout Healthy Vending, based in Irvine, Calif., has more than 80 operators in 40 markets around the U.S., with about 1,000 machines in service.

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