Healthy Nibbles was born in 2014 out of one of life’s ironies. It was 3am and Sara Roberts was at her father’s bedside in hospital.
“I was hungry. The only food available was from a vending machine. Standing in front of the vending machine, it suddenly occurred to me that there were no healthy options. There was a poster beside the machine with the message ‘diabetes and obesity kill’. To me, it was staggering that in a place where people are trying to get better the food options aren’t always conducive to good health,” Roberts recalled.
Situational prompts in the coming months hammered home the extent of the issue. Roberts had given up sugar: working in client officer or on the commute there were no healthy snacking options to be found. “After a few too many times being caught without a healthy snack, I decided to take action.”
If the initial idea – providing healthy snack options through vending machines – might sound simple but it is fair to say Healthy Nibbles has taken it several steps further, delivering products that meet different dietary requirements and “provenance through vending”.
“When developing the idea there were a variety of considerations from the types of snacks we wanted to offer, increasing dietary requirements and that the vending industry was notoriously bad for service delivery, choice and reliability.
“We chose to push the boundaries and set a new level of service excellence. We sourced UK food producers to enable us to offer artisan products that meet a variety of dietary requirements and begin offering provenance through vending.”
Healthy Nibbes also adopted cutting-edge vending technologies, including cash-free payments, real time remote access, best-in-class energy efficiency and wheelchair use settings.
This approach has enabled Healthy Nibbles to rapidly expand sales. Fast-forward to 2018 and the company is pushing for a turnover of £2m (€2.23m).
“We’re on a mission – to improve the health of commuters and workers everywhere, and to prove to offices, hospitals, commuter hubs, that vending machines can dispense more than caffeine and sugar; and still make a profit,” Roberts said.
Riding the demand wave
Healthy Nibbles has benefits from being the right idea at the right time. It is riding a wave of growing interest in healthy snack options targeting adults.
Working alongside corporations to provide healthy options to their workforces, Roberts stressed the economic benefits to employers of encouraging healthier eating habits.
“Our core consumers are UK employees in city hubs. We have a diverse client base, serving everyone from FTSE100 companies to more traditional corporate customers like accounting firms, law firms, and advertising and marketing agencies. At Healthy Nibbles we have seen significant value brought to the businesses we work with.
“For business, wellbeing is a challenge. CEO’s not only have a moral obligation to look after the wellbeing of their staff, but increasingly they will gain clear business advantage by putting wellbeing at the core of their strategy.”
Counting the cost
Evidence of the economic cost of poor dietary choices – to companies in particular and the economy at large is mounting.
Business in the Community places the cost to employers of poor eating habits at £17bn (€19bn) per year, or 97m lost working days.
Employees with ‘poor’ diets are 66% more likely to experience a loss in productivity, a study from Brigham Young University found.
“Most importantly we know that employees consume up to two thirds of their daily calories at work, meaning it is absolutely essential that companies support the wellbeing of their employees,” Roberts notes.
"At Healthy Nibbles, we are encouraging our clients to be proactive; emphasising education, incentives and honing food options within the workplace that encourage behaviour change.”
Call to action
Health has moved up the agenda, with initiatives like Public Health England’s call to reduce calorie’s in products like ready meals and pizzas by 20% by 2024. The regulator is also working to raise public awareness of the calories that they consume by urging people to adopt a 400-600-600 calorie plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But where does snacking fit into this picture?
According to Roberts, grazing is becoming a common trend and this, she suggested, must be reflected in opening up access to healthier snacks. “Whilst [grazing] is not detrimental, understanding that employees’ consumer up to two thirds of their daily calorie intake whilst at work, means a greater importance on employee nutrition.”
She suggests that the food industry could do more to deliver better-for-you choices. “There is not enough is being done from large food producers to meet the needs of consumers and collaboratively contribute to the bigger picture of national health and wellbeing.
“There are some great innovations from companies such as Unilever, but this is very much in the minority. Early stage food producers are creating exciting products, but need scale in order to deliver products that not only deliver sound health credentials, but also taste great and are not priced out of the market.”
In particular, the out-of-home space remains an underserved segment of the market, according to her assessment.
“The industry as a whole is making progress; it is becoming more common to find healthier products in travel centres and there have been significant changes at end of aisle and till points. However, there remains an underserved market within offices, hospitals, commuter hubs, proving genuinely healthy products that meet the growing diversity of dietary preferences, whilst also aiding controlled snacking in terms of calories and nutrients.”
Healthy Nibbles believes its ability to provide clients with a “curated snack journey” will help fill the void.