MCPS Swaps Vending Machine Companies

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There’s something new in the halls of PHS: brand-new, bright-green vending machines with new snacks and credit card readers. They come from an Annapolis-based company called VendNatural, specializing in healthy vending. The oldest healthy-only vending company in operation, VendNatural won a contract with MCPS earlier this year, replacing the former contract with Culinary Ventures/Royalle, another vending company. 

The vending machines still contain familiar snacks, but in healthier varieties, like whole-grain Cheez-Its and Pop Tarts instead of traditional versions of these snacks. In the past, Poolesville’s vending machines had been locked until 30 minutes after the instructional day, but the new ones are accessible all the time. According to Ms. Susan Krouner, PHS’ School Business Administrator, the new machines are not locked during the school day because they are food and nutrition compliant, meaning they meet the MCPS guidelines for nutritious food. They also meet the United States Department of Agriculture’s SmartSnack guidelines. 

The SmartSnack program, implemented in the 2014-2015 school year, requires that all foods sold during the school day meet certain nutritional standards. For example, all snacks or entrees must contain 50 or more percent whole grains; or have the first ingredient as a fruit, vegetable, protein, or dairy product or some combination thereof; and also meet several other guidelines. According to their website, all of VendNatural’s thousands of products meet these SmartSnack requirements. In addition, many school vending machines are on timers so they don’t compete with food from the school cafeteria during the day, and Krouner warns that the lack of timers in the new machines may not be permanent. 

The new VendNatural machines are also different in that they accept credit cards and ApplePay. Students who don’t carry cash may find this feature useful, but according to Krouner, some machines have experienced connectivity issues that make it difficult to pay that way. 

“I think they’re really interesting and a total improvement from the old machines,” says Humanities junior Jaida Barksdale. “I also like that it takes more methods of payment than just cash which makes it easy to grab something if you forgot cash [or] change. The only thing I think is that some items are really expensive for the amount [of] product you’re getting.”

There have also been concerns about machines not giving change, and Krouner says affected customers would need to contact the company directly to get a refund, as PHS is not directly involved with the vending machines.

The change in vending machine providers was a county-wide process, beginning with an MCPS Request for Proposal (RFP) in April 2019. The Office of Procurement handles finding and contracting outside companies to provide goods and services for the school system, and contract awards are determined by best value. The RFP process is used for bids over $25,000 and has to be approved by the Board of Education. VendNatural’s contract was approved by the Board and awarded on Aug. 29, 2019, and the new high-tech machines began appearing in many MCPS sites this school year. 

“[A]ll in all, I’m glad we have them because they come in handy when you get hungry during the school day and need to get food fast,” says Barksdale.