Vending machines offer major growth for fruit, vegetables

09/08/2010 09:52:29 AM
Bruce Blythe

He declined to provide specific figures on the number of machines the company supplies or vending machine sales.

Vend Natural’s machines are manufactured by Des Moines-based Wittern Group, which is hiring more workers and ramping up production to keep pace with rising orders, the company said.

“Schools are demanding this equipment,” said Phil Masters, a vice president with privately held Wittern Group. “They’re throwing out the candy machines, the soda machines.”

Masters said the company expects to make more of the machines, which cost $3,000 to $6,000 and include features that allow bananas, for example, to be stored at different temperatures than other products.

Growth in fruit and vegetable vending machines hasn’t come without stumbles, Sanchez said. A principal at one school asked Vend Natural to remove its machine, saying kids lining up to buy fruits and vegetables disrupted lunch hour.

“I get more resistance from schools than I do from kids,” he said.

Sanchez said he’s generated about $6 million in sales since launching the company in 2007. A Vend Natural distributorship, which is similar to a fast-food franchise, costs $50,000, Sanchez said.

He’s sold almost 30 distributorships so far, with a goal to sell at least one a month.

Among specific products, Vend Natural is shifting from serving pineapples in chunk form to “spears,” which are cleaner to handle, Sanchez said. The company also recently phased out clamshell packaging for apples and grapes in favor of bagged products.

Products range from 75 cents to $2, and a typical machine will sell around $300 a week, he said.


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