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South Jordan Journal

Healthy vending machines offering new choices for people on the go

Feb 01, 2018 03:57PM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

"It's not to shock people into living a better lifestyle; it's to give them better choices and head them toward the right direction," said Aaron.

Healthy vending machines are replacing the standard junk food machines all over the Salt Lake Valley.

“We still offer sugar, but it’s natural sugars,” said Aaron Johnson. “It’s a better alternative.”

Aaron and his wife, Amethyst, hadn’t been married for very long before they moved from Utah to Nashville and began looking into starting a family. Aaron had finished school and working for a company in a job that offered more money but a lot of stress and time away from his family, and they found it difficult to conceive until they took a long hard look at how healthy their lifestyle was. 

Once Amethyst dramatically changed her diet and Aaron also took up the cause, they were able to have children and knew that some long-term changes needed to happen to improve their health and happiness.

“We knew that we were very passionate about protecting our time, and we knew that we were very passionate about what we eat, and we were careful about that,” said Aaron.

The couple wanted something like a franchise, and the idea of vending machines was intriguing. But Aaron’s experience with them from school said that they didn’t quite line up with what the couple was going for. After a lot of research, Amethyst found Ryan O’Keefe and InstaHealthy, a San Diego, California-based company that deals in healthy vending machines.

“The majority of vending machines are full of energy drinks and things that just aren’t good for you,” said Aaron. “At the time, there wasn’t really anything in Utah doing healthy vending options, but Ryan was offering a business opportunity to bring healthy vending machines in.”

Working with InstaHealthy, the food must follow two very strict guidelines: no high fructose corn syrup and no preservatives.

“Essentially, if you walk into a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s and walk down their snack aisles, those are the kind of items,” said O’Keefe.

O’Keefe works with a national supplier to keep costs low for both the partners and the customers. There are markets in 20 U.S. states. 

InstaHealthy provides training and analytics for investors, as well as securing each location and running sample events to determine each market. The menus will vary widely based on a location. For example, a school will be different from a hospital setting, and InstaHealthy representatives will inform the partners on those results to better serve the customers. Baked chips, brownies, popcorn, candy, protein bars, gum, energy drinks and sodas are available—just options with fewer unnatural sugars and grams of fat.

“It’s not to shock people into living a better lifestyle; it’s to give them better choices and head them toward the right direction,” said Aaron.

Currently, the Johnsons manage seven locations at Timpview High, Ameritech College, the Apple Store at Fashion Place and Jordan Valley Regional Medical Center, but Aaron hopes to put even more healthy options in schools all over Utah. Timpview administrators recently got rid of their school’s vending machines because they didn’t feel the snacks offered fell in line with the healthier lifestyle they wanted to promote for the students.

“When we came with our menus, they were very excited because we would be able to offer stuff to students that would fit in a model that wasn’t just loading them up with caffeine and sugar,” said Aaron, who also hopes to eventually branch out into micromarkets, a self-checkout system that would be able to offer more substantial options such full meals locally catered by food businesses who follow the same guidelines that InstaHealthy requires.

O’Keefe said it’s possible to appeal not just to the junk food eater, but someone looking for food that is actually tasty, not just healthy. Health-minded people tend to avoid vending machines, he said, but junk food eaters have expectations as well. O’Keefe felt he had latched onto the solution when he started InstaHealthy two and a half years ago. 

“It’s instant access to healthier choices, making small steps for your overall health,” he said.