Piedmont Vending Uses Advanced Category Management To Support 3-Tier Health Selections

Piedmont VendingPiedmont Vending, a Hickory, N.C.-based vending, dining and micro market operation, categorizes all of its products based on health content and tags the products accordingly at the point of sale. Stickers on machine shelves indicate if the products are standard, Health Fit or Health Fit Plus.

Healthy vending programs are not new, but Piedmont Vending has developed a program that categorizes all of its products into three health categories, according to Aaron Speagle, CEO. Professional dietitians developed the category requirements.

While the categorization and tagging has been introduced to all of the company’s business segments – vending, micro markets and dining – it is most developed in the micro market business, the segment that has the most advanced category management software.

Piedmont Vending operates Breakroom Provisions micro markets, which feature flexible category management software that allows operators to categorize products according to customer requirements.

“It allows for more category management,” Speagle said. The software is also capable of categorizing products into tiers beyond the ones Piedmont Vending is currently using, should the need arise.

New Requirements Emerge

Given the diversity of customer needs in today’s refreshments industry, new requirements are emerging that operators have to accommodate. This is where flexible category management software makes a difference.

“We can move and promote product based on the health category or a number of different aspects that we want to categorize,” Speagle said. One customer, for instance, does not allow products with peanuts. “We can categorize items as non-peanut type items,” he said.

“We can code items in a multiple of ways. The software also keeps track of all the ingredients, nutrition information and other product attributes. It can also print customized labels including that information. In addition to categorizing by health trait, the software can also categorize products as subsidized or on promotion,” he said.

So far, no vending management system allows this level of categorization, Speagle said.

“For vend products, we have to do that process through our Excel spreadsheets,” he said.

Adapting Grocery Software

Speagle, who is also CEO of Breakroom Provisions, developed the category management software from a product called Catapult made by ECRS, a company that specializes in grocery software. “It’s a retail software that’s been around for over 25 years,” he said. “We tailored it to use in the markets. It has a lot more capabilities.”

As for why vending and other micro market software has not had this capability, Speagle pointed to two factors. For vending, inventory has always been much more limited than grocery stores, hence, there was less need for categorization. Micro markets, which are still relatively new in refreshment services, accommodate a much larger amount of inventory than vending.

“One of the pitfalls of micro markets is being able to control the large variety of product,” he said. “Having a more mature system helps.”

“I think it’s just an evolution,” Speagle said.

He thinks increased categorization will eventually come to the vending channel.

“As customers demand it, the operators will have to find ways to be efficient in handling the products,” he said.

Each Piedmont Vending customer location has a guide book and a touchscreen tablet that allows the employee to access every product’s nutritional content.

Complementing Nutrition Rules

The company’s healthy food program complements existing nutrition disclosure rules. Speagle said studies have indicated the government-mandated nutrition labels did not accomplish as much as the law intended since people were not taking the time to read the labels.

Piedmont Vending’s health standards were provided by two large customers, and so far, they have been accepted by all customers. The program took a year to develop.

“They’re now wanting their employees to see immediately which product falls into which category,” he said.

“We never had it required in markets and vending and dining on every single product,” he said. “Especially in markets.”

In the micro markets, the healthy food program rewards customers 15 percent on healthy purchases. “And they can only use those rewards to purchase more healthy items,” he noted. There is also a 15 percent discount on healthy combination purchases. The combination discounts are monthly.

To provide such a program, the warehouse has to separate the three different health categories.

For the micro markets, it is necessary to provide the drivers a machine planogram for every market. “You have to be able to put the product in the appropriate spot,” he said.

In the vending machines, the categorizes are designated by shelf markers.

One major customer is requiring Piedmont Vending’s health program for all of its locations nationwide.

For more information visit: http://www.piedmontvending.com/

By Elliot Maras

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