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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Machine Cuisine

E-6. D-11. F-17. 




What sounds to some like the cries of a rousing bingo game can mean something entirely different to members of the vending machine generation. 




E-6, when translated into vending lingo, can mean Gardetto's Snack 'Ens, while D-11 may signify a Snickers bar and F-17 equals a fresh bag of Andy Kapp's Cheddar Fries. 




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All told, about 466 vending machines populate facilities across the UW-Madison campus, selling goods ranging from candy bars and salty snacks to sandwiches and frozen foods, according to Tim Gleckler, Wisconsin Union director of retail services. 




As part of his duties, Gleckler oversees these machines in conjunction with C.L. Swanson, Inc., a 56 year-old Madison-based vending firm that services more than 600 accounts across nine states. 




\There should be vending machines in just about every building on campus,"" Gleckler said, explaining that the university's exclusive agreement with Swanson entails that machines are offered campus wide, even in less than profitable areas. 




Gleckler said it is safe to say the UWMadison community spends more than $1 million on these machines annually, ultimately amounting to massive quantities of snacks purchased. 




On the UW-Madison campus alone, Swanson annually sells more than 360,000 packages of candy, 450,000 snack food items, 420,000 bottles of soda and 100,000 cups of coffee. The volume leader, according to Swanson data, is canned soda, with more than 540,000 items moving yearly. 




When averaged this amounts to about 44,000 ""units"" (vending industry lingo for ""items"") sold on a weekly basis, according to Gary Kaech, Swanson's UW-Madison account representative. 




""That's everything from milk, sandwiches, [to] gum and chips,"" Kaech said. 




These numbers tend to fluctuate as students come and go throughout the year, with sales peaks coming during final exam periods when, according to Kaech, the four full-time employees who handle the UW-Madison account stock some machines twice a day. 




""Helen [C.] White [Hall] gets wiped out,"" Kaech said. 




Exams are not the only variable in the campus vending machine market, according to Gleckler. Seasons, he said, are also a player in the game. 




""The colder it gets, the better the vending machines do,"" he said. 




While most machines around campus are traditional soda and candy machines, Gleckler said about 16 food vending machines offering sandwiches and the like are strategically placed in buildings that see consistent traffic throughout the day and night. These, according to Gleckler, include Helen C. White Hall, the Law Building, the Medical Sciences Building and the Weisman Center. 




""Places where people are likely to be all night,"" he said. 




A consistent challenge for Swanson in providing this widespread service is keeping on top of vending and food trends to meet customers' needs. 




One new innovation being tested in the recently opened Rennebohm Pharmacy Building is a high-end frozen food machine, which Gleckler said offers ""deluxe TV dinners"" in the $3 range. 




""That's something we hope will go over in the future,"" Gleckler said. 




Trial of the frozen foods machine represents Swanson's usual practice of using state-of-the art machines, according to Jeff Parks, of the firm's corporate office. 




While that is not usually a problem for snack, soda, food and coffee machines, one area of campus vending poses a technological problem, Parks said. 




Babcock Dairy milk products, because they are still marketed in small cartons instead of the popular ""chug"" style bottles now offered by other dairies, Parks said, are incompatible with new milk machines. As a result, Swanson is forced to rebuild and re-rebuild the decades-old milk units seen throughout the university. 




Aside from keeping the machines up, Swanson must also decide on what items will fill them, which Parks said is a constant process. 




""We survey your peers on campus to see if there is something we can provide,"" he said. UW-Madison senior Omar Demerdash, for example, said he would like to see more ""meat snacks"" such as Slim Jims in the campus area machines. 




""The dual cheese-meat combo; I think that should be more frequently installed in the machines"" said Demerdash, a regular vending machine customer. 




According to Kaech, the firm regularly takes customers' suggestions of new items. The best way to relay this information, he said, is to call Swanson, leave a note on the machines or talk with vendors when machines are being filled.

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