April Glavine wanted to do something about child obesity rates in Canada. What followed was a healthy snacking revolution that’s changed the way kids nosh.

Not too long ago, if food was convenient, it was probably junk food. While at university, I noticed that healthy snacks were hard to come by, and it seemed as though junk food – not to mention oversized portions – were quickly becoming the norm in Canada. It struck me that this problem might be one of access. That is, if what is convenient is what is unhealthy, perhaps the way to solve the larger issue of unhealthy lifestyles was to simply change that equation – make the convenient healthy. I set out to do just that.

Getting off the ground

It wasn’t easy. At the time, there was practically no such thing as a healthy vending machine. I had to turn to my parents for an initial loan to start my business. Then the hard work really began. I was juggling three jobs at the time, keeping myself going while trying to start my company, but I was determined to make this idea a reality. The result was the Lean Machine Healthy Vending Service, Canada’s first 100% healthy vending company. It’s designed to supply places like schools, universities, or hospitals – to name a few – with healthier snack options for people on the go.

I started with a single machine in one Halifax school, and I ran everything – I answered the phones, I did the sales, I oversaw the whole operation. Soon enough, word had spread that it was an option available for all kinds of organizations. The business grew organically from there, one school, one machine at a time, until at one point we were asked to supply some schools in Prince Edward Island with their own Lean Machines. It posed an enormous challenge geographically because I was based quite a distance away in Halifax.

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Healthy living through innovation

The solution was to innovate once again. We came up with a plan called the Lean Machine Way. We supply a school with a Lean Machine, a product list, and manual and then train the student council, or appropriate class, on how to operate the machine on their own. They run it, they learn the marketing, public relations and product knowledge, and they can create a community around it. To me, it was a win-win-win: we win because we would be able to service schools outside our immediate community and region; schools win because after they’ve paid off the initial investment, they start to collect higher profit margins – money they can put toward items or programs their school needs; and students win because they gain some hands-on business learning – not to mention some healthier snack options.

Lean Machine is proof that healthy living is good business. There are now roughly 80 machines operating from British Columbia to P.E.I. run by four franchises, each one dispensing around 600 healthy snacks every month. We still like to keep things local, even as we spread nationally, so at least 20% of the things people find in our machines – tasty snacks like cereal bars, pita chips, trail mix or fruit juices – are from local producers. From a humble beginning, we’ve expanded our services to now offer franchisees with brand and communication support in addition to direct consulting with a certified dietitian. The brand is supported by industry experts and has been recognized on a number of occasions based on business practices and ethics.

Making a difference

The response we’ve had back from people is excitement. When folks think of Lean Machine, they think of a healthy vending company, which doesn’t just mean we’ve branded ourselves properly, it means people realize that healthy living and healthy choices can be easier – that it’s possible to make convenience and health go hand-in-hand. Admittedly, there are still a lot of people don’t know this is a solution, so that means we still have a lot of work to do, but signs are encouraging, especially when young people in particular are reaching out to get in touch and learn more. Healthy living is about making choices, but those choices shouldn’t have to be difficult ones. Encouraging healthy living on a broad scale takes innovation, but I found through dogged determination to solve a major societal problem, one small step at a time, it is possible, profitable, and above all rewarding.

April’s Healthy Snacking Tips

  • Avoid having ready-to-eat junk food in the house. If it’s there, you’re more likely to grab for it, especially if it’s easy to open and prepare. Instead, prep healthy foods, such as cut up veggies and dip. Have those foods ready to grab when your hunger hits.
  • Find new healthy snacking recipes that actually excite you, instead of forcing yourself to have the same-old things you’d rather not eat. Check out innovative ideas on websites like Pinterest, or create a healthy snacking recipe swap with your friends.
  • To keep it different, innovative and healthy, make a point of learning what snacks are seasonal and local. Make a trip out of going to a local market and getting excited about the fresh, seasonal options!

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily imply endorsement by Manulife.

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