Vending Machine Makeover

What do you get when you cross the munchies with the desire to be healthy?

Entrepreneurs Sean Kelly and Luke Burgis of Fit Fuel found themselves at that very crossroad, and it inspired them to launch a company that's filling vending machines with healthy alternatives to the chips, cookies and candy bars that stock traditional machines.

Healthy vending machine options may be just what the doctor ordered. The Surgeon General has warned Americans about our nation's obesity problem; he's even gone on so far as to compare the threat of obesity to terrorism.

Kelly and Burgis think they have the answer to healthier living -- and one that could help in the fight against obesity.

"We've done something with a vending machine that's never been done before," Kelly said. "We've made it 100 percent healthy."

Fit Fuel has emerged with a product line that is new and unique and offers convenience and accessibility to nutritious products. They've renamed their vending machines "Fueling stations," which are stocked with an array of granola bars, protein bars, nuts and other tasty but nutritious snacks.

One of their biggest challenges is changing the way healthy foods are perceived by vendors who fear they will lose money with healthy vending.

"The way to do that is through simple numbers. Every vending machine we've placed has done better than traditional machines," Burgis said. "We've also branded the machines to look attractive and grab people's eyes."

It's a common misconception that kids won't eat healthy foods, said Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"People have this idea that kids won't eat healthy foods. If you offer children good tasting healthy choices they will eat them," she said.

And despite America's cravings for junk food, Fit Fuel has been flourishing since its creation.

"I've got about 300 different people I need to follow up with on orders," Burgis said.

Healthy vending has gained widespread support, including that of professional athletes. Jay Fielder, quarterback of the New York Jets says, "As a professional athlete whose body has endured 10 rigorous seasons of NFL football, I understand the importance of nutrition in keeping me healthy... through their healthy vending program and convenient distribution methods, Fit Fuel provides health-conscious individuals with nutrition they need around the clock."

As nutrition takes center stage in Congress with the debate over the sale of soda beverages and vending food programs, Kelly and Burgis are hoping to have some influence in a country dominated by junk food. A 2004 survey done by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that an estimated 75 percent of vending machines are filled with junk food... a problem that may be to blame for an increase in obesity, diabetes and other weight-related health problems on the rise.

"I'm so busy all day that I usually grab a bag of chips from the vending machines," Capitol Hill staffer Deborah Shamaskin said. She recently learned of "healthy vending machines" and says she wishes she had them in her office building.

"I would love if I had healthier options to choose from," she said.

With the most recent Gallup poll finding that one in five American teens are overweight, healthy vending may just be the answer.