August 27, 2008

Pennsylvania School District Enlists YoNaturals Healthy Vending for Nutritional Alternatives to Junk Food

A shocking 12.5 million U.S. children--one in six--are overweight, and 13 million more are close. All are at greater risk than slimmer peers for a host of maladies, from diabetes, cancer and heart disease to osteoporosis and hypertension, to say nothing of adult obesity.

The epidemic is a loud wake-up call to improve children's eating habits. California start-up YoNaturals, Inc., is attempting to do just that in school vending machines by offering organic and all-natural snacks in place of junk food. CEO Mark Trotter saw the chance to snag part of the $32 billion vending machine market by uniting Americans' love of convenience and their growing health consciousness. It's working. In just two years, the San Diego-based "Healthy Vending" pioneer is already serving schools in 30 states and Canada.

YoNaturals' "Direct to Schools" program, launched in August, allows schools to lease the machines on a "no money down" basis with the lease terms of 48 and 60 months. Also, YoNaturals rebates $1,000 per machine to each school for the first 500 machines sold through this program. YoNaturals allows schools to select their own products and keep all profits received from the machines. YoNaturals' comprehensive programs include the installation and training of the machines, school planograms (menus) to match state nutritional guidelines and ongoing service and warranty programs for the schools.

Recent sign-ups include Norwin School District in North Huntington, Pa. Its middle school, with 850 students, and high school, with more than 2,000, have each had a YoNaturals vending machine in place since January. "I'm extremely enthusiastic about this product," said Rod Stewart, director of food services.

The company's machines meet a big need for students, staff and local residents, Stewart added. Until this year, anyone staying after school for sports, clubs or community activities and craving a snack or drink had to settle for something like a cola or a snack cake. So when YoNaturals called him, it seemed a perfect fit. Their machines hold more than 300 items, all of which meet state nutritional standards. For instance, YoNaturals could provide the Vitamin Water Stewart couldn't get from a local distributor. In addition, they could offer the teas, natural sodas and wholesome snacks missing from other machines.

Early on, YoNaturals ran up against schools that had exclusive, more lucrative contracts with other vendors. But health concerns and the threat of possible litigation have led many to eliminate these machines or modify their offerings. Thirty-seven states now have nutritional guidelines for vendors. These developments have helped open the door to YoNaturals. It's clear now, Trotter noted, that children shouldn't have snacks with high sugar, high fructose, aspartame and caffeine. "More and more schools are realizing the money isn't worth it," he said.

The YoNaturals product range includes all the best selling natural and organic drinks and snacks, including Stacy's Pita Chips, Clif Bars, Apple & Eve juices, Roberts Pirates Booty, Fiji Water, Horizon Organic Milks and Honest Beverages, among a group of over 300 different all-natural and organic products.

Sure, students in Norwin schools are still buying sports drinks and traditional soda, but Stewart thinks YoNaturals' alternatives are an important learning tool. "We have to educate people about what food does to their bodies so they end up making healthy choices," he said.