published Monday, January 12th, 2009

Chattanooga: Healthy vending

Company offers alternatives of organic, natural juices, snacks


by Andy Johns
Audio clip

Mark Trotter

A company promoting healthy snacks continues its nationwide expansion, setting up five of its organic-food vending machines in the hometown of Little Debbie and MoonPie.

YoNaturals, a San Diego-based vending company, has added Chattanooga to its list of 135 cities where the brightly colored drink and snack machines dispense healthy snacks, according to company officials. The machines, the first in Tennessee, have been installed at two local attractions and three schools.

“People are looking for healthy snacks and healthy alternatives and it’s not just people that work out all the time,” said Mark Trotter, YoNaturals’ chief executive. “It’s people who are changing there lifestyles.”

When the company was founded in 2006, there were millions of vending machines in the United States, Mr. Trotter explained, but most, if not all, focused on fattening treats such as soft drinks, chocolate candy and potato chips.

YoNaturals machines feature products such as Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies, Cliff Bars, Fiji Water, Tazo Iced Tea, fruit crisps, soy milk and pita and vegetable chips, according to the company’s Web site.

“We’re just a completely different product,” Mr. Trotter said. “People choose what they want in their diet. We just hope to be a good alternative to what other people eat in their snacking habits.”

Organic vending machine locations:

* Chattanooga Choo-Choo

* Tennessee Aquarium

* Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts

* Chattanooga School for Arts & Sciences

* East Ridge Middle School

Source: YoNaturals Inc.

The machines have found an audience in schools, where many superintendents have been urged by lawmakers to evaluate the snack options for their students, according to Mr. Trotter.

In Chattanooga, YoNaturals machines have landed in Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences and East Ridge Middle School.

“We want the kids to be healthy and we want them to make good choices,” said Steve Ball, principal at the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.

Mr. Ball said he is anxious to see whether students respond to their new organic options but didn’t have a feel for their response because the machine was just installed Thursday.

“I’ve tried some of the things in it and they’re pretty good,” he said.

But Carolyn Childs, the director of school nutrition for Hamilton County, said organic and healthy are not always synonymous.

“There are parents who, just because it has the title ‘organic’ or ‘natural,’ they automatically assume it’s the best product for their chid,” she said. “That’s not always the case.”

She said parents, children and school workers need to read the nutrition information on the new snacks before they start munching away. For instance, in children with diabetes, monitoring carbohydrate counts is usually more important than staying all natural, she explained.

“It doesn’t matter where those carbs come from — a carb is a carb,” she said.

Outside of schools, YoNaturals machines can be found in health clubs, office buildings and hospitals around the country, according to Mr. Trotter.

The Chattanooga Choo-Choo installed one machine just before Christmas and is considering adding a second near its workout room. Julie Dodson, spokeswoman for the Choo-Choo, said many guests may stick to their traditional favorite snacks, but some may appreciate the extra options.

“Green’s the thing now,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt to offer a greenwise product, a smart product.

“We may take another one, but I wanted to see how the product moves first,” she said.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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