A Healthy Way to Snack
Busy, fast-paced people come in all shapes and sizes. Some are worker bees, running from place to place to get the job done. Some are students, staying up into the early hours of the morning finishing papers and studying for exams. No matter who they are, they often rely on vending machines for a quick, low-cost source of food and energy. This can be an unhealthy habit that easily leads to three bags of Cheetos, half a Milky Way bar, and a stomachache. Whether their customers are hitting the books or heading to the office, Vitality Vending wanted to change the way they fuel up.
In March of 2011, Vermont native, Brent Farrell, changed the way the community looks at snacking and vending. After spending much of his working life in the hotel industry, Brent started in the business of healthy vending by developing Vitality Vending, a company dedicated to offering healthier options to the busy frequenters of vending machines. He and his business are appealing to those who are looking for something a little healthier than Snickers and Doritos but still want a tasty, satisfying snack. Today, they’re responsible for 65-70 machines in Chittenden and Washington Counties.
“We’re trying to provide solutions for people that are looking for alternatives for traditional vending,” said Brent.
Initially, Brent needed to use creative solutions to achieve his goal of a healthier vending machine experience. He first heard of the idea of healthy vending from a friend and thought, Of any place in the world, it’s going to do well in Vermont.
It’s nice to be able to walk into the branch and there’s my loan officer… I really appreciate the one-on-one relationship that we have
“There’s so much interest in local foods here, so much farm-to-plate movement,” Brent explains. “Vermont loves to support its own, and we at Vitality Vending aim to do the same thing. We try to provide Vermont products as much as we can. The only limits, really, on our growth have been capital and geography.”
He started filling his machines with both healthy and traditional snacks to give a variety of options to customers. While the options vary from machine to machine, Vitality offers items like Deep River potato chips, KIND bars, Vitamin Water, fruit snacks, and mini chocolate chip cookies. Whether it’s a satisfying salty snack or an energizing boost, the options are vast.
“It’s not organic, it’s not all-natural, but it’s still better for you than Snickers or a bag of chips.”
Brent is committed to finding ways to provide healthier options for a low price. As many healthy eaters know, especially in Vermont, where the use of locally-sourced food is so common, eating well can get expensive. Making good choices about our food is difficult on a budget, and sometimes it’s easier to go the unhealthy route. Vitality Vending works to help people overcome that obstacle.
“We’ve just been finding our own way of providing quality products that can still fit that same bit, but at the same time, not having our hands tied to have to do an organic trail mix, which nobody will buy because it would cost five dollars.”
Because of Brent’s realistic understanding of consumer choices, his low-cost trail mix is their most popular product.
Brent takes pride in his company’s flexibility to provide customers with exactly what they want. To prep for delivery, he confirms the products his customers are looking for and sets up the machines to ensure that the location consistently receives the same products at each delivery site. That way, Vitality always knows what to bring back to each machine and which products are selling particularly well. For his clients at places like CCV, Champlain College, and National Life, the system works.
“We’re consistently meeting the needs of what people are asking for,” said Brent.
With one full-time business partner and one part-time employee on his team, Brent uses technology to reduce and eliminate wasted labor. Once again, he used creative solutions and problem-solving to achieve his goals.
In addition to supplying vending machines to Vermonters, Brent also takes a traditional grocery approach with a company that likes to think outside of the box for its employees. Through a partnership with MyWebGrocer, he supplies their employees what he refers to as a “micro-market.” As the leading provider of digital grocery services in the country, MyWebGrocer stocks its shelves with Brent’s products as a treat to their employees. This functions as a mini supermarket that Vitality fills as needed. It boosts the corporate morale of MyWebGrocer and allows Vitality to shake up the normal machine routine.
What started as a five-year contract with a national vending franchise has now evolved into a business of Brent’s own, based in the garage of his Essex home. Filled to the brim with products for his machines, Brent says, “I could put a car in there and then some, but I can’t at the moment.”
Fortunately for Brent and his car, Vitality Vending has plans to move to its operation to a warehouse space in South Burlington. To keep things affordable, they will be’re sharing the new spot with the employees of Death Before Decaf Cold-Brew Coffee. The two small businesses are coming together to help each other and advance their companies. From here, Brent will be able to more efficiently deliver to his clients in Morrisville, Burlington, Montpelier, and other areas.
Opportunities Credit Union is also a significant contributor to Vitality’s accomplishments. When a friend told Brent that Opportunities liked to work with local businesses, he turned to them when he needed help financing new equipment. A few years later, when the growth of his business called for even more equipment, the high-quality service remained the same, and they were able to help him branch out even more. They were willing to take the chance on a small, startup company that other banks were afraid to take on.
“They’re nice people,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to walk into the branch and there’s my loan officer… I really appreciate the one-on-one relationship that we have. You don’t have layers of people to go through. I think they’re much more understanding for small, local businesses.”
With the help of Greg Huysman, Senior Business Development Manager, Brent was able to finance the needs of Vitality with Small Business Loans from Opportunities. He’s found that they’ve been able to do business with ease–with “no kind of pretense of arrogance”–and easily stay in contact with each other.
When describing a particular transaction with Greg, Brent said, “I called Greg yesterday and said, ‘Hey Greg, I’ve got to place the order pretty quickly for the equipment to meet the deadlines that I had in mind for CCV for moving in, because we want to move in when they’re not in session.’ He called me back within an hour, ‘Hey, as a matter of fact, we’re just going to the Loan Committee tonight, and we’re going to present to the Committee.’
“I don’t know any of those people. I don’t know what that Committee is, but I know it’s how they operate. He got back to me today and we’re moving forward,” Brent added.
By building a relationship with the employees of Opportunities, the business and the Credit Union are able to meet on the same level to achieve the best. It’s because of this that Brent would recommend utilizing Opportunities’ services, especially as a small business owner.
When you’re rushing back and forth from the vending machine to your desk, you’re hardly ever thinking of the process involved behind the snacks. With his mind toward healthy eating, cost efficiency, and customer satisfaction, Brent and his team at Vitality Vending do that for you. When the people called for healthier snacks, Vitality answered, and they hope to continue feeding the area’s busy folks for a while.
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