In a world that is going green and promoting healthy eating, it’s no surprise that organic is yet another trend that many people are starting to follow. With their launch in 2005, Organic Vending has been on top of it with their accessible, healthy snacks.

In very little time, Organic Vending has moved from the garage to be purchased by a much larger vending company, Aramatic Refreshment. With each strategic move, this is a business which hopes to expand from it’s local origins and become recognized around the country. They currently work with schools to help promote healthy food choices among students and offer the children a chance to choose from a variety of organic options.

Bob Wolf, one of the founders behind Organic Vending, has seen his fair share of ups and downs as the business grew. He recently shared with us about his experiences, about the merger, and what his hopes are for the company.

What was the inspiration for Organic Vending?

I had researched the conscious consumer market and found double-digit growth and many areas that were largely untapped. My first idea was to open up a green dept store appealing to the values based shopper. By “Values based” I mean someone who cares about people, The environment, ECT and will shop at a store that is not only green but also only buys from companies that have a great track record of treating their employees well. The idea being every dollar spent helps support things the shopper believes in.

After much research and time it became apparent I was getting in way over my head and would require a substantial amount of money to get started. At that time I had the idea for Organic Vending.

The radio station I work at had vending machines with the usual junk in them. I couldn’t eat any of it. I have been eating Organically for many years and wondered why no organic or natural snacks were being offered. I looked into it and in 2005 not one vending company was offering the organic and natural option. I started Organic Vending with five machines in my garage and we have since grown to over 150 machines in use and we add more every week.

How has it changed since your launch in 2005?

In 2005 we were the only vending company in the country offering a full machine of organic and natural snacks and drinks. Since then a few “Distributorships” have become available using the same concept but getting it wrong. The demand for what we do continues to grow and I’ve begun consulting organic and natural vending start-ups in other areas of the country. We are still at the beginning of the curve with this concept and I see huge growth in the years ahead.

Right now, where are most of your vending machines located?

Schools have of course been very big for us. Many schools eliminated vending altogether because the selections in the machines were so unhealthy. We have been able to put machines in many of those districts. We also are big in Gyms, Colleges and large commercial accounts. Wellness is a big issue for many companies and what we do fits in with many company wellness campaigns.

How does Organic Vending separate itself from the competition? What are some of the snacks offered in one of your machines?

Most vending companies will tell you healthy does not sell. They are wrong. I get calls all the time from people who tried to get their existing vending company to put healthier items in their machines but were told “we don’t carry them”. No other company has the selection of organic and natural snacks that we do. I do research on an ongoing basis always on the lookout for organic and natural snacks and drinks to sell. We also offer most of our snack selections for $1 or less. I have been able to find the right snacks to sell at the right price. Our markup is even larger than most vending companies selling the usual items.

We also use the vending machines to run concert ticket giveaways and other promotions and have built E-mail marketing lists at many of our locations so we can communicate with our customers and tell them about our contests and new snack items.

Our biggest sellers are Pirates Booty, Organic Blue corn chips, Soy chips and many different kinds of drinks without fructose corn syrup.

In what ways does this company work with teachers and schools?

Childhood Obesity is a growing problem with negative effects that go beyond a child’s physical health. To this end we have programs designed for elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges that combine working with the wellness groups and the teachers to educate the students about the food. We go into wellness classes and let the kids sample the food and then choose what they want in the machines. Then they market the food to their fellow students. In this way the kids have a sense of ownership in the organic and natural snack-vending program. We believe if we can create healthy snacking habits now they have a better chance of keeping those habits when school ends.

In what other ways does it educate people about eating healthy and organic?

At Organic Vending we don’t just drop machines off and wait for the business. We believe that giving people a chance to taste our organic and natural snacks, inquiring about our food and telling us what they want is an important factor in making our program a success. To that end we do food tasting at all of our new accounts.

At new accounts we work with them to choose the right place and time and bring in a ton of our snack and food products for them to taste. We find that for people who don’t already eat organic and natural this is a great way for them to try the snacks they are not familiar with. These are always a huge hit.

We don’t stop there. We will do free samplings through the machines when we have new products to offer. Our organic and natural suppliers are generous in providing us with samples. We find a tremendous increase in business when people have a chance to sample first. We even have a certified nutritionist who is also a holistic MD that is available at no charge to come up and lecture about the danger of all the chemicals found in non-organic foods.

What company recently bought Organic Vending? What are their goals for the business?

Aramatic Refreshment recently bought Organic Vending and me along with it. We needed to team up with a much larger vending company to be able to handle our continued growth. Aramatic “Got it” and is committed to expanding Organic Vending throughout their markets. Aramatic has been in the vending business for over 30 years and has brought its wealth of experience and knowledge to Organic Vending.

We are also developing an organic and natural snack and beverage program for existing vending companies throughout the country. This will allow them to use all of our knowledge, plan-o-grams, marketing tools, branding and buying power.

What lessons in business have you learned from running Organic Vending?

My first year I made what seemed like every mistake possible. My routes were a mess, I had too many products. My mark up was too small and I was growing way too fast. I also realized what my personal strengths and weakness were. I am not a “Business” person. My skills where in marketing, sales and product development. I think it’s really important to know what you are good at and then find people who are great at what you can’t do. My decision to sell to Aramatic was also based on my desire to spend my time on marketing, sales and consulting and not with the day-to-day running of the business.

I have also realized you are only as good as the people who work for you. Other people will never care as much about your business as you do but it is important to take care of and support your staff. Give them proper compensation and help them to feel proud of the work they do.

Do you think this will be it for you or would you like to expand, either in this business or by launching into something new?

My goal was never to just operate a local vending business. My larger mission was to bring healthier food to vending nationally. It was also really important that I feel good about what I do. We always wanted to take this national but first we needed to get it right here in Albany New York. I also hope to one day get my Green dept store going. I have developed this concept and really believe in it. I look for markets that are not being served and then find a way to get in early. The Green dept store meets those criteria.

What advice do you have for a potential entrepreneur interested in starting a business based around the organic foods industry?

Find people that are in a similar business and learn from them. I would have saved a lot of money if I had teamed up with an existing vending company in the beginning. Also research your market and make sure you have something to offer that is unique. Find that hole and fill it.

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