School vending machines ditch Oreos, Fritos for ‘smart snacks’

By Jessica Wohl

The school vending machine is no longer an easy place to satisfy a snack craving.

Under new national nutritional guidelines that kick in July 1, schools that are part of the National School Lunch Program can no longer sell treats such as Oreos and Fritos. The “Smart Snacks in School” program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) covers foods and drinks sold in vending machines, on cafeteria à la carte menus and for club fundraisers during school hours.

For years, school systems have been pushing for healthier foods on their breakfast and lunch menus. Now, schools must also make sure products in their vending machines meet new standards.

Companies that fill school vending machines have been busy preparing to ensure they have the right products. The USDA standards include limits on calories, sodium, and sugar. Grain items must have 50 percent or more whole grains by weight, or list whole grains as their first ingredient.

“We’ve had July 1 on our calendar for a long time,” said Daniel Stein, vice president and co-owner of Mark Vend Co., which operates about 2,000 vending machines in a roughly 65-mile radius of its Northbrook headquarters, including about 75 machines in high schools.

Stein said his company will no longer stock school vending machines with one of its best sellers, Frito-Lay’s Cheetos Oven Baked Flamin’ Hot Cheese Flavored Snacks. Stein said he expects companies to come up with new versions of popular snacks to meet the Smart Snacks standards.

“Kids are smart, and if we can put things that taste good in the machines … they’re going to buy it,” Stein said, adding that his company switched from selling the traditional Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to the baked variety about two years ago. “It’s not like it’s going to be machines filled with birdseed,” he joked.

Snacks such as Frito-Lay’s traditional Cheetos and Doritos don’t make the cut under the new guidelines, according to a list of approved snacks on the website of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. …

A number of chips and other snacks make the grade. Snacks that qualify include 0.8-ounce bags of PopChips, 0.875-ounce bags of Baked Cheetos with 10 percent calcium, and 1-ounce bags of Cheetos Fantastix Baked Snacks, according to a list from the alliance.

With the new USDA regulation, “it’s more of an evolution, I would say, than it has been a drastic change,” said Roni Moore, a spokeswoman for the National Automatic Merchandising Association. The Chicago-based trade group represents hundreds of companies in the vending machine industry.

Mondelez International Inc., the Deerfield-based maker of Oreo cookies, said a few of its products meet the new standards, including BelVita Breakfast Biscuits Soft Baked, in the Mixed Berry and Oats & Chocolate varieties; Honey Maid Lil Squares; and Cinnamon Teddy Grahams.

Under the USDA guidelines…snacks or side items sold in schools have to contain 200 calories or less, with no more than 230 milligrams of sodium. Other guidelines include that food must be either “whole grain-rich,” be primarily made of fruits or vegetables, dairy or protein, or meet other specific criteria, such as containing 10 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or dietary fiber.

In some schools, similar and even stricter measures are already in place. The Chicago Public Schools system adopted “what we would consider our version of these standards two years ago with our Wellness Policy of 2012,” said Leslie Fowler, executive director of nutrition support services at Chicago Public Schools.

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