Hospital vending – keeping the NHS healthy

We all know that obesity is associated with a range of health problems, but few realise that the resulting NHS costs attributable to obesity are projected to reach £9.7bn by 2050, with wider costs to society estimated to reach £49.9bn per year. So, it is no wonder that preventing obesity is, a major public health challenge.

In a typical work environment, staff will consume drinks, snacks and at least one meal, so the workplace therefore provides an opportunity to positively influence eating habits. Hospitals have a role to play in the food provided to staff and visitors as well as to patients, so NHS England has made a commitment to ensure the NHS as an employer sets a national example relating to food and drink sold on their premises.

Thirst Link is currently helping a growing number of NHS hospitals to meet the challenge of satisfying the mandatory CQUIN for staff health and wellbeing, which requires the provision of a healthy hot food service for doctors and nurses outside of conventional catering hours, particularly night shifts and weekends.

Vending also has a major part to play in this improvement process. Understandably, vending machines have been criticised for providing convenient access to food and drinks that are high in saturated fat, sugar and salt. But things are changing – for the better.

As consumers increasingly demand healthy options, the vending industry has reacted and taken big steps to improve the nutritional quality of vended food and beverages.

Our team of professionals know how we can help our NHS clients improve and get the best out of their vending service. We will identify what the most suitable equipment is, for each location. We recognise that, by replacing old, expensive to run machines and getting in modern, reliable equipment fitted with the latest technology (such as media screens displaying nutritional content and allergens within products information prior to purchase) would not only deliver excellent quality drinks and food, but provide the hospital with a significant rise in income, with reduced costs.

As a supporter of the Sugar Smart programme, Thirst Link will work with the vending operator to ensure that the new machines contain a fully CQUIN and SSBs (Sugar-Sweetened Beverages) compliant products range, with healthier products being identified and promoted. But not only that, just by making simple changes to altering the availability and placement of healthier products in the vending machines, can have meaningful effects on purchasing behaviours.

Our clients value our expertise and welcome our reassurance, that we will do everything we can to advise and assist them to meet the standards set by NHS England, to provide healthier food and drink to their staff and visitors.

Innovation is on the rise

Today’s retail environment can be significantly enhanced with digital technology for payments, monitoring of demand, and customer communications.

Not all of us “love” technology but in a swiftly changing world we do value speed and convenience so, if something is easy to use, we will use it more regularly.

Electronic payment systems have shown in many situations to boost revenue from vending machines – cashless, Apple Pay, credit/debit cards are all examples. Staff ID cards can have multiple uses, not just as a payment method but also a means to monitor transactions, which can then be linked to loyalty programmes to encourage increased buying habits.

Telemetry can capture consumer data and be used to offer users promotions, discounts and special offers and of course the vending machines can then become interactive, connected and smart.

Placing digital TV screens across the work sites and the use of social media to communicate with visitors and staff, are examples of good practices where catering teams can post details of relevant menus and offers and gather feedback on the quality of food and service.

We have specialists in our team that can advise on this challenging and frequently changing area, as it’s important to put in place the systems that are appropriate for a client’s workplace and that all parties can enjoy the benefits on offer.

Sugar Smart – the campaign continues

Thirst Link’s involvement in the Sugar Smart campaign has taken us “overseas”, or to the Isle of Wight to be precise.

The Isle of Wight Council’s 1Leisure and Vitalife Health have teamed-up to launch new healthy vending machines in its major leisure centres.  The machines are set up to accept all forms of payment options and offer almost 30 lines of healthy snacks and drinks, including dietary-specific products that are sugar-free, vegan, and gluten free.

The launch comes as part of the council’s Sugar Smart campaign to introduce a healthier offering to the centres’ members and visitors.

Isle of Wight Councillor Clare Mosdell said: “We know there are many causes for obesity including genetics, behaviour, the environment and our culture.  Sugar Smart Isle of Wight is a great opportunity for us to work together to help our local community, to raise awareness of hidden sugars.  I would encourage all Islanders, employers, food businesses, local retailers and schools to make a pledge to the initiative and help raise awareness of hidden sugars in food.

Locker style vending

A new style of fresh food vending machines have been on show in Aberdeenshire, Scotland offering local produce to the community in “lockers”.

The company – Vending by JSR – has the contract to sell the Italian-built machines in the UK along with another simpler farm food vending machine by German company Roesler which was unveiled in the UK three years ago.

The Roesler machine is a multipurpose healthy vending machine used to sell eggs, organic food, vegetables and even jams and oatmeal.

The machines are said to have “dramatically increased sales” in every site they have been installed and proved a real hit with customers of all ages.

The machines take all payment systems and can be built chilled or not or a mixture of both.


The Student Experience

A recent Universities UK report stated that: “The student experience is predicated on more than teaching and learning. Universities can challenge students socially and culturally, by pushing them to collaborate, socialise and often live with new people who may come from different backgrounds.”

Good university and college refreshment and catering facilities have a vital role to play in enhancing this “student experience”. These spaces have huge potential and are much more than just a place to ‘refuel’ and can be vibrant, cultural hubs where students mix with peers and academic staff and engage with the broader university and college community. But in a time of financial constraints, these catering services must generate a healthy income for the university.

To encourage students to use the facilities and acknowledging the high street as the main competition, catering teams understand that they need to keep pace with expectations and high street trends, as students become ever more sophisticated consumers of food and beverages.

Thirst Link is helping a growing number of university and college catering teams consider how to stay ahead of the competition and generate a healthy income, while providing the kind of environment that enhances the lives of students and staff.

Our involvement is not about taking anything away from the university in terms of control, but is about providing that much needed additional expert resource to help them through what can be a difficult and lengthy process.

Millions raised by UK sugar tax

According to government figures, the UK’s sugar tax has already raised a massive £153.8 million in revenue since it was introduced in April 2018.

The tax was brought in as a means of tackling childhood obesity, and is being used to fund physical education activities in primary schools.

Interestingly, although many manufacturers have reduced the sugar content in their drinks products, over 450 traders have registered to pay the levy, the rate of which depends on the sugar content of the drink.  The figures show that more than 90% of revenue from the tax has come from traders paying the higher rate.

A spokesperson from the Treasury, said: “The figures show the positive impact the soft drinks levy is having by raising millions of pounds for sports facilities and healthier eating in schools, as well as encouraging manufacturers to cut sugar in over half the drinks found in UK stores. Helping our next generation to have a healthy and active childhood is a priority for us, and I’m pleased to see the industry is playing its part.”

It is a worrying statistic that the UK has one of the highest obesity rates among developed countries and that soft drinks are still the biggest source of sugar in children’s diets.

Apparently, 36 other countries are also implementing some form of tax on sugary drinks in order to combat this serious issue.



Vending payment systems – what are the choices?

If you are going to offer refreshments to your staff, you will find that you have numerous options to choose from before deciding on how your staff are going to pay for this service.

Cashless solutions can be the answer and have shown in many situations to boost revenue from the vending machines.  It goes without saying that, if something is easy to use, you will use it more regularly.

Using a credit card immediately comes to mind but there are employee cards that can be connected to apps and of course introducing loyalty programmes can encourage staff to increase their buying habits. Installing Telemetry can capture consumer data and be used to offer promotions and of course the vending machines can then become interactive, connected and smart. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

We have specialists in our team that can advise on this challenging and frequently changing area, as it’s important to get the payment system that’s right for your business and that both you and your employees can enjoy the benefits on offer.

Single use plastic tax – a threat to vending?

A tax on vending cups as part of the introduction of a single use plastic tax could have a serious and negative impact on the vending industry.

The hot drinks vending business is quite different to any other hot drinks retail outlet. Not all machines are cashless, instead most accept silver coins only. This means that the minimum amount of a purchase levy on a cup will be 5p.

As the average retail price of a vending cup of coffee is 27p, the consumer would be hit with a price increase of almost 20%.  Not forgetting that almost half of vended hot drinks are provided FOC, many from machines with no coin mechanism fitted.

Single use cups is a tiny proportion of the UK’s overall packaging waste, but we all need to wake up to this “plastic problem” and play our part. If vending is offered in a working environment, we as individuals cannot ignore what will become of our used cup.

On a more positive note, the vending industry is well placed to promote the collection and recycling of single use cups, as most machines are in workplace sites, so “post-consumer waste streams” should be relatively easy to establish. In fact, the industry has been supporting recycling of both plastic and paper cups for many years and continues to do so.

Gem Vending acquires Allen vending

GEM Vending, based in Nottingham, has announced the acquisition of Allen Vending, making them the largest privately owned vending operator in the East Midlands. The new GEM Vending Group will continence to be based out of Nottingham.

Steve Gallagher, chairman of GEM, said: “The joining of our two companies is a perfect fit and can only enhance and broaden our service further and secure local jobs in the Midlands” .

GEM Vending celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

A “clever cup”


Costa Coffee has partnered with Barclaycard to launch the UK’s first reusable contactless coffee cup.



The “Clever Cup” – available in Costa Coffee stores very soon – is apparently powered by bPay by Barclaycard technology, letting users track their spending, top up their balance and take control to block or cancel the contactless payment element online or using the dedicated bPay app.

The cups form part of Costa’s wider reusable range re-launch, encouraging customers to use reusable cups instead of single-use cups – the company has pledged to recycle 500 million takeaway cups by 2020.

Sold in packaging made from recycled coffee cups, the cup features a silicon base and contactless chip, which is detachable for ease of washing. The technology within the cup can be used wherever customers see the contactless symbol and not just at Costa stores.

Jason Cotta, managing director at Costa Coffee, commented: “Whilst we are committed to ensuring more takeaway coffee cups are recovered and recycled, we also want to incentivise and reward customers who help reduce the number of takeaway cups being wasted.”

The new cup is priced at £14.99, with a £1 donation from every sale going to The Costa Foundation.