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Vending machines: Pros and cons of school vending machines

Reading time: 3 mins

More and more schools, colleges, universities are now equipped with vending machines, distributing anything from candies to coffees, soups, fruits, stationery products or condoms.

Offering fancy treats for pupils, students and staff alike is a nice idea, but it also has its shortcomings. While many of these disadvantages are related not to the school vending machines themselves, but to what’s inside and provided to the students and pupils, do educational institutions really have a say, given all the money that can be at stake here?

 School vending machines

Pros of school vending machines

School vending machines provide a sound source of revenue for educational institutions while very conveniently providing all the needs of a student at any time of the day. Furthermore, they may provide healthy food options, as well as many other useful services.

A sound source of revenue for the educational institution

These machines are a very solid source of revenue for educational institutions, that helps keeping tuition fees down. Many schools report raising as much as £100,000 a year from vending contracts, and in the US, some institutions have signed 7-figure contracts with vending companies.

An easily accessible source of virtually everything a student can need

For students and pupils, but also for the institution’s teaching, administrative and technical staff, school vending machines are very convenient, as they provide most of the things they need, at any time of the day. Food and drinks, but also stationery products, sporting goods for sports classes are hot items. Students can even discreetly have access to safer sex by getting their condoms from school vending machines.

It’s not only about junk food

As far as food is concerned, vending machines do not have to restrict their offering to the usual sodas, candies, chocolate and crisps. They can also be filled with healthy food such as yoghurts, fresh fruits, soups and water.

Additional purposes and uses

Another interesting advantage of school vending machines is that they are not only there to sell foodstuff or even any other kind of product: they can sell services. Some vending machines accept the payment of tuition fees or the topping-up of travel cards.

Cons of school vending machines

Although they have a lot of advantages, these machines still have a lot of shortcomings that cannot be ignored or minimised.

Should the school be in the search for money?

When schools begin to realise how much money they can make from these vending machines, they are very tempted to switch their focus from education to profit.

If selling healthy water bottles is part of an educational policy against child obesity, selling sodas bring in much more money.

Vending companies are pulling the strings

First, these machines are much more easily and cheaply obtained from soft drinks and candy makers who will put their ad on the door than from vending machines manufacturer themselves.

Then, these companies propose contracts that are not merely based on profit per item sold. One type of contract is volume based: sales quotas will require, for example, the sale of 5 000 cases of soda a year - about 60 cans per student - in exchange for fixed commissions that greatly exceed the profits the school would make in a can-by-can approach. Vending companies may also ask the school to give them exclusive rights to sell their products within the school’s premise. For a few hundred thousand pounds, the school gives up its right to choose what will be sold in the vending machines.

... so it’s still a lot about junk food

At the end of the day, entering the school vending machines business may put the schools in a difficult moral situation, being pushed to sell junk food and indirectly cause all problems associated with obesity and tooth decay