(UPDATED COVERAGE, Dec. 18) The shelf life, packaging and variety of Del Monte’s Fresh vending line of healthful snacks a perfect fit for Vend Natural Inc.

The Ventura, Calif.-based company plans to start selling the line of fresh-cut fruit and vegetables in its 350 machines in 16 states in January, said Gil Sanchez, president.

This is the first major commitment to fresh produce for the company, Sanchez said. Many in the vending machine sector have shied away from produce in the past, but Del Monte’s line seems to have taken care of many of the issues, he said.

“There were quite a few things that were appealing about it,” he said. “They’ve made great strides in their packaging and preservation of fruit.”

UPDATED COVERAGE: Vending distributor picks up Del Monte’s line

Courtesy Vend Natural

UPDATED COVERAGE: Vending distributor picks up Del Monte’s line

Vend Natural and Del Monte worked through the same vending machine manufacturer while Del Monte developed its vending machines, and Sanchez said he watched closely as Del Monte test-marketed its products.

“We saw the success they had, and we’re hoping to see the same results,” Sanchez said.

Vend Natural did not test Del Monte products itself and will not put them in its machines until after the new year.

Fresh, perishable fruits, like the sliced apples the company has worked with before, actually move faster than dried fruits for the company’s existing machines, Sanchez said.

“It has been received very well,” Sanchez said. “Even in middle schools, high schools, they’re buying it. We feel if you put out a quality product, people buy it.”

Vend Natural’s operations fit with Del Monte’s nationwide distribution network, said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte.

The vending machine company specializes in natural and organic products such as milk and 100% fruit juices, and services most of its machines daily, Sanchez said. Many of its products also are certified organic.

Sanchez said more than 90% of the company’s machines are in schools, and 80% on the East Coast, where he plans to start rolling out the Del Monte products. Schools have been supportive of the machines because they provide healthful options rather than junk food, he said.
“We can be made to be an ally, not an enemy,” he said. “When these show up in schools, kids thank us. We’ve really modeled our products after what you could find at a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s or a Sprouts.”

Christou said the vending machine company’s position in schools is an obvious opportunity for fresh produce.

“Vend Natural’s presence in educational institutions, businesses and hospitals throughout the U.S. will aid efforts to decrease obesity and other preventable but chronic epidemics by giving everyone healthy alternatives to high-calorie, conventional snacks found in vending machines,” Christou said.

Vend Natural should be offering ready-to-eat Del Monte fresh cut fruit and vegetable mixes, including Del Monte Gold Extra Sweet pineapple chunks, grapes, apple slices, baby carrots, celery and tomatoes, some of which are paired with healthy dips, Christou said.
“Several locations will also carry specially wrapped Del Monte single service bananas,” Christou said.

Most of the products should be priced between $1.50 and $2.25, Sanchez said.

“If we do a larger fruit bowl, it might be $2.50, or a single banana, it might be $1. We’re still working it out,” Sanchez said.

Staff writer Ashley Bentley contributed to this article.