WILKES-BARRE — Debating on that bag of chips or candy bar at the vending machine? That decision might not be a hard one to make soon enough.
President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law requires calorie information to be displayed on roughly 5 million vending machines in the nation. The Food and Drug Administration said the move will “assist consumers in making healthier dietary choices.” A little over 10,000 companies that have 20 or more vending machines will affected by the new regulations, and will have about a year to comply.
But a local vending machine merchant isn’t thrilled about the change.
“It’s going to make a lot of work,”said Jeff Metzger, CEO of American Value Vending. “We’re not happy about it.”
American Value Vending offers snack and soda vending machines, as well as coffee units. Metzger said his company uses Fit Pick to enable customers to make smart choices.
According to its website, Fit Pick’s nutritional criteria are based on the recommendations of the American Heart Association, the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Labels on products indicate which products have no more than 35 percent of total calories from fat, 10 percent of calories from saturated fat and 35 percent of total product weight from sugar.
Gretchen Hunt, a dietitian for the Commission on Economic Opportunity, thought that Fit Pick was a valuable tool. However, she said it probably would not meet the new regulations, and that more needed to be done.
With calorie values listed, Hunt said vending machines will begin to promote awareness about the caloric value of food. She said a similar thing when high schools started regulating what could be sold at vending machines and at cafeterias. Vendors began selling healthier options to schools, which had a “trickle-down” effect of making students make smarter choices.
Hunt said a similar trend could happen with vending machines. Customers might opt for smaller items or drinks with less sugar in them.
“I think that this is a good step in the right direction,” Hunt said.
Metzger felt that the additional guidelines were unnecessary. He said his business has been exploring ways to meet the requirements, but have not come up with anything concrete yet.
“My feeling is that someone that is watching calories or is watching their diet … they are already are aware of what’s in the (candy) bar,” he said.
Hunt disagreed. Whereas calorie counts are readily available at most fast food restaurants and sit-down restaurants, she said customers at vending machines won’t know until they buy the item.
“I actually think they’re good,” Hunt said in reference to the new regulations. “Not every person who buys something at a vending machine cares, but the fact is, some people do.”
The FDA also estimates that implementing calorie counts will cost the vending machine industry $25.8 million at first, and roughly $2 million per year after the onset. Metzger said the process would result in time, labor and money.
Hunt saw it as money well spent when put into perspective. She said a typical vending machine can make about $7,000 each year.