Halal Vending machines – why not?

| 14/01/2008 | Reply
Vending machines stock up on specialty foods
 
Shannon Proudfoot
Canwest News Service

Typically
supplying guilty pleasures that stave off hunger pangs at school or
work, vending machines are starting to cater to those who don’t – or
can’t – indulge in the usual chocolate bars and bags of chips.

From
machines stocked entirely with organic or kosher foods to others
offering gluten- or peanut-free snacks, the vending industry may soon
offer those with special dietary needs better options for an afternoon
snack.

“In a vending machine, it’s not like you can look at the
ingredients. Something drops out and all of a sudden there’s beef fat
in it – that’s a bit frustrating,” says Kathleen Farley, executive
director of the Toronto Vegetarian Association, which produces regular
reports on the range of veggie options at major fast food chains.

Health
Canada estimates food allergies affect up to four per cent of adults
and six per cent of children, making reliable snacks more of a
necessity than a bonus for many. At the same time, immigration is
creating ever more diverse Canadian cities, Farley says, and vegetarian
or other specialized cultural diets are becoming more common as a
result.

A number of vending and convenience food companies have caught on.

Kosher
Vending Industries, based in New York State, operates Hot Nosh machines
that serve up hot, kosher snacks such as hot dogs, cheese pizza,
mozzarella sticks and potato knish. Albany-based Organic Vending stocks
their machines with organic and natural snacks as well as gluten-free
foods, and the company is eyeing possible expansion into Canada.

From
its headquarters near San Diego, YoNaturals Inc. co-ordinates sales of
fresh juices, organic milk, probiotic bars and organic pita chips,
cookies and crackers through 350 vending machines in the U.S. The
company is starting distribution across Canada, beginning with Calgary
and Edmonton, says CEO Mark Trotter.

“Vending is about
convenience, it’s always been about convenience,” he says. “It’s where
people are in school or in an office or at the health club. They’ll buy
it if it’s convenient.”

The products YoNaturals sells cost about
50 per cent more than typical vending machine treats, he says, but the
prices are about the same for those premium products in a retail store.
A significant challenge is keeping tabs on preservative-free items that
don’t have the seemingly immortal expiry dates of typical vending
machine fare, Trotter says.

“Either people get it or they don’t.
If you eat healthy, it makes 100 per cent sense,” he says. “Other
vending machines – the people that are healthy don’t even look at them
because they know there’s no food in there for them.”

In addition
to vending machines, other fast food outlets are creating convenient
options for special diets. Some Canadian universities have introduced
Halal food items or lunch counters where Muslim students grab food on
campus. Many snacks – especially those aimed at children – have gone
peanut-free and tout their allergy-friendly status all over the
packaging.

In the 15 years she’s been a vegetarian, Farley says
she’s seen major strides in the range of meat-free snack options.
Mainstream grocery stores now offer impressive collections of healthful
snacks, she says, and there’s a Portland, Ore.-based vegan grocery
store that does brisk online business in snacks ranging from “fake
meaty stuff” to vegan candy that promises to “rot the teeth out of your
head.”

“For a while, the vegetarian community was trying to
figure out whether Twinkies were vegetarian or not,” she says. “After
awhile, you’re like, ‘Who cares? It’s bad for you!'”

Category: Food Service, The Americas

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