At the beginning of September last year, pupils at Mason High School in Cincinnati found something unusual in their canteen. Alongside the traditional vending machines that had been supplying them with chocolates, crisps and fizzy drinks for most of their formative years, was another machine – painted bright orange – selling nothing but carrots. Exactly the same size and shape as a conventional snack machine, the fresh produce on its shelves was packaged in small, opaque, crinkly bags similar to the sort of bags crisps come in. There were a number of different designs – one featured a weird orange alien creature on a green background, another had a black carrot-shaped object travelling through space – but inside all of the bags was the same thing: about three ounces of washed and peeled baby carrots, selling for 50 cents a bag.
Just in case the broad brush strokes on the packaging hadn’t got the message across, a strapline, in bold white lettering on the side of the machine, hammered the point home: “Baby carrots. Eat ‘em like junk food”.
The response was startling. Within an hour, pupils all over the school were walking around, munching on their new orangey treats. In the weeks that followed, the machine was emptied faster than the manufacturers could fill it.
“If they wanted a snack, they bought a bag of carrots,” recalls Tim Keeton, Mason’s assistant principal. “It easily got as much custom as our other vending machines which were selling the normal range of stuff; Sun Chips, Doritos, Cheetos and chocolate chip cookies.” The machine is no longer at the school. It was part of a six-month trial by one of the largest growers of carrots in the United States, Bolthouse Farms. But Bryan Reese, a graduate of the US Army’s West Point academy and the company’s head of marketing, believes the results of the test, which took place in schools and supermarkets in both Cincinnati and Syracuse, New York, herald the beginning of a new era in snack food.