By Erin Chen
The school installed a pair of new vending machines, to replace the Midknight Snack Bar. The machines sell a variety of products, many health-oriented and new to the school. While some students are pleased with the products in the machines, the higher cost of products has dissatisfied many.
“The overall prices seem higher because they reflect the quality of the food,” said Director of Dining Services Chef Jones. “It’s not like there was a price increase. They’re just very expensive products. If you buy dried mango and pineapple anywhere, you’re not going to get them for two dollars.”
Over the summer, Chef Jones sampled some products from a vendor to find ones that would be ideal to sell in the vending machines. The vendor presented popular products from Whole Foods and Wild Harvest stores, such as dried fruit and more flavors of Greek yogurt.
“I thought [the dried fruits] would be a nice idea, so they’re in there to try. If students think they’re too expensive then we can pull them,” said Chef Jones.
However, there are products in the vending machine that the snack bar sold at lower prices. “I was annoyed by the price increase of the Cheez-Its,” Amanda Ugorji ’14 said. “The price was increased to $1.25, which is two-and-a-half times as much as what it used to be.”
The reason for this price increase is that some of the snacks are being bought through a different source. “The difference is when we had the snack bar, [the school was] directly buying the products and selling them to students. Now, they are being bought through a retailer and resold to students,” Chef Jones said. “Although we try to buy the products at as low of a price as possible, we can only control the cost to a certain degree when we’re buying them from a retailer. ”
To avoid the cost of employing a cashier, the school replaced the snack bar with the vending machines. According to Chef Jones, parent volunteers used to run the snack bar and the income was designed solely to cover the cost of more snacks. It was not supposed to bring in a profit or cost the school any money to run it. However, after the school replaced the parent volunteers with a cashier, it realized that paying someone to manage the snack bar was defeating this purpose.
“[The snack bar] was just set up to pay for itself, and maintaining a payroll for someone to run the bar was not doing that, so we had to come up with another idea,” said Chef Jones. A self-service vending machine would avoid a payroll but still provide food for students.
“[The school] would rather not get a profit and just make enough to pay for the electricity, and that’s all we want to pay for. It is in [the school’s] best interest to keep the snacks as affordable as possible, but unfortunately, the retail price includes handling costs which adds to the price of snacks,” said Chef Jones.
Despite the price increase, some students think the vending machines are an improvement from the snack bar. “I’m actually a fan of the vending machine,” Sara Allan ’14 said. “I think it is a lot more efficient to buy snacks now.”
Jeremy Grill ’14 agreed: “Initially, I didn’t know that the school was not aiming to make a profit from the vending machines. But if the income from the vending machines is used to only to pay for electricity and restocking snacks, I think they are a more reasonable idea.”
The vending machines are programmed to operate from 11:45 am- 8:30 pm, a change from the snack bar’s operating times, 2:00 pm – 7:30 pm.
Chef Jones said, “With breakfast served from 7:00 – 9:30 AM, and lunch soon after from 11:10 – 1:10 PM, the vending machine doesn’t need to be open any earlier. If the school is paying time, money, and resources into putting out breakfast, then you should eat breakfast. The idea is that the vending machines should only be seen as an extension of what our food program already has to offer. We don’t want students paying for snacks and drinks from the vending machine when they can take advantage of the food that we serve in the kitchen.”
“I think the vending machines have a lot of healthy options that students would want to eat for breakfast, so it confuses me that they aren’t open until past 11:00. It makes me a little upset because it has more and different options than just the cereal in the Commons. It just defeats the purpose to have a vending machine instead of a person there if you’re still going to not always have it open,” Aaron Orbey ’14 said.
Despite these reasons, some students still prefer earlier operating times. “The reason why I think the machines should be opened earlier is that the food offered for breakfast is different than those offered in the vending machines,” Amanda said. “I don’t think that people who want food from the machines would instead eat the breakfast food even if it is free because it would be different food.”
Photo: The new vending machines offer healthier foods at higher prices. By Dilly Sanborn-Marsh.