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good to go

Good to Go: The Rising Tide of “Better for You” and the Opportunity for Operators

By Jeff Fischer

The natural and organic industry is projected to grow from $65 billion in 2015 to a whopping $252 billion in 2019. This presents an enormous opportunity for our industry, particularly because research shows:

  • The trend toward better nutrition is not limited to one demographic. While market penetration is highest among millennials, you have new mothers, the aging population, people with chronic medical conditions and socially conscious shoppers.
  • In seeking healthier alternatives, consumers value convenient vending options—over traditional, large-format retail—and they’re willing to pay for it.

The bottom line is that the better for you lifestyle is not a fad. It is becoming a way of life for people, and we are positioned to give customers what they want.

Through its FitPick® program, NAMA has done a great job of helping our industry ensure that our offerings meet federal nutrition guidelines. If you haven’t explored this resource, I urge you to go to fitpick.org and learn more.

To complement this initiative, we at Vistar launched a program called Good to Go, both to incorporate FitPick-compliant products into our selection, and also to vet products based on other attributes that customers are demanding. These include social and environmental missions; organic and local; and symbols such as gluten-free, non-GMO, allergen-free, vegan and high protein.

It’s hard to overemphasize how big gluten-free is. Nearly a third of consumers are eating gluten-free or cutting back on gluten. That’s huge, and we can all capitalize on that. To give you an example, I was at a trade show recently and a woman who is involved in a national mothers’ organization came up to me and said, “I applaud you.” She told me her child had celiac disease and that she was thrilled she’d be able to find gluten-free snacks in a vending machine rather than having to carry them around in her bag.

Because the better for you category is so big and growing so quickly, it’s requiring all of us to stay educated and listen to our customers. If you’re an operator looking to get started in this space, here are a few tips:

  • Start small. Introduce 10 to 15 items into your mix and build from there. We usually recommend picking from three or four different categories, including energy & protein bars, chocolate bars, popcorn and baked chips.
  • Prepare to revisit your pricing strategy. Although your initial product costs may be higher than your traditional product costs; the good news is that consumers are willing to invest more for snack options they feel are healthier.  Just look at what’s happening at retail.  The average shopper mom’s weekly grocery basket is up from $110 to $125 a week.
  • Understand that trends change quickly and be ready to adapt. What was a top brand six months ago is already being replaced by new brands. Be willing to try new products. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how good some of the items in this category taste. They’ve come a long way, and customers are responding to that.

Vistar is committed to helping NAMA members navigate through the many options. For our current customers, check out MyVistar.com which houses our Good to Go order guide.  Also make sure to reach out to your local Account representative as they can keep you up to date on regulations and provide other guidelines.

The manufacturers of these better for you products are truly passionate about what they are doing. Working with them has breathed new life into our business — and now we want to help others respond and grow as our industry experiences these transformational changes. Reach out to me anytime with questions.

Jeff Fischer is VP of Strategic Development at Vistar. He may be reached at jeff.fischer@pfgc.com.