Rethinking Vending Machines: Fresh & Healthier Options Popping Up in New Spots Around Campus

Vending machine of sandwiches, salads, and fruit in the first floor of Sawyer.

Close your eyes and picture a vending machine. Do images of fresh fruit, yogurt, fresh fruit, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, and caesar salads come to mind? No, not for me either. But that’s changing a bit here on campus. Launched in September, two new campus vending machines are providing fresh, healthy, and prepared foods around the clock for anyone looking for something to nosh on. Typically vending machines are stocked with shelf-stable, snack-type junk foods that few would consider nutritious or even nutrition-adjacent. Instead, Dining Services wanted to offer healthier and fresh options that were available even when dining halls were closed. Director of Dining, Temesgen Araya, provided an overview last week of how the machines work, the food options, how these machines fit into the college’s zero waste goals, and how Dining ensures that the food offered is always fresh.

Where are they and what do they offer?

The machines are located in Sawyer and Mission Park in the lounge near the front door. Those high traffic locations were chosen based on usage rates of existing vending machines. The offerings include:Turkey and Cheese Wrap and Ham and Cheese Croissant

  • Fresh Fruit: Cantaloupe, Assorted Fruit Cups, Honey Dew, Pineapple, Fresh Mixed Berries
  • Healthy Snacks: Yogurt & Fruit Parfait, Hard Boiled Eggs, Hummus with Pretzels, Local Yogurt Cups
  • Breakfast Options: Breakfast Burrito, Breakfast Sandwich
  • Sandwiches: Ham & Cheddar Croissant, Turkey & Cheese Wraps, etc.
  • Salads: Southwestern Salad, Chicken Caesar Salad, etc.


How do the machines work?

Temesgen anticipates that the machines’ technology including a dashboard that can be monitored from the Mission Production Kitchen will help Dining Services track and improve the performance of the vending program. He elaborated about the system:
The unit has temperature control monitoring. If the unit goes above 40 degrees, we are alerted, if the units’ temperatures regularly goes outside of the normal range, the unit will automatically lock and not accept any orders until the issue is addressed.
The unit has item and spoilage tracking, we will be alerted if an item is a past date so it can be removed and records that the particular item went out of date before it was sold on our dashboard as “Spoilage.”

Our Mission Production Kitchen makes all the food in our vending units in-house and delivers it immediately to our locations.
We have a Scan Me to solicit feedback about taste, etc.

Who? Who makes the food? Who can access the machines?

The food is made and stocked by Williams’ Dining Services. The machines accept points and credit card transactions, just like the other non-Williams operated vending machines. An updated inventory of the food in each machine is available online so people can peruse available food items ahead of time. Directions can be found on the machine for how to use points or a credit card.

How do these machines align with the college’s zero waste goals?

Most of the food in the machines (about 90%) is in reusable containers. Each machine has a reusable container drop-off bin nearby. We asked Temesgen whether the combination of fresh food and vending machines would lead to more food waste and he thought that with the ability for the Dining team to see transactions per day and time period as well as which items are most and least popular would enable them to adjust and reduce overall food waste.

Perhaps this will be the start of a new trend in vending machines across campus. At the moment, the college has 22 machines—8 snacks, 8 beverages, 4 combination snack/beverage plus these 2 new machines. If and when you sample their wares, please be sure to let Dining know what you think by using the QR code feedback form.

QR Codes for Guides on Points and Credit Cards for Food Purchases


Information provided by Temesgen Araya, Director of Dining

Article compiled by Mike Evans, Deputy Director of the Zilkha Center