How Can Fresh Food Vending Revolutionize Medical Campus Healthy Food Dining?
The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) is a world-class medical center with dozens of member institutions, including hospitals, clinics, research labs, and university campuses. We spoke with Elizabeth Machnica, Director of Community Well-Being, and Marla Guarino, Farm to Institution Program Coordinator, to hear about their mission of revolutionizing healthy food available across the campus.
“Our mission is to make the Medical Campus the healthiest 160 acres of the entire city of Buffalo. The Byte fridges really bring it to a whole other level." — Elizabeth, Director of Community Well-Being
Healthcare workers and innovators had few healthy food options on-campus. Red tape and exclusivity agreements made it hard to expand fresh food access.
Find a vending technology that could handle fresh perishable foods easily. Set up small-footprint storefronts that can sell food anytime, day or night,
Convenient alternative to junk foods for on-campus staff and healthcare workers. Small, cost-effective way to scale healthy food expansion across campus and beyond.
For a Medical Campus, the BNMC Had a Healthy Food Availability Problem
The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is made up of dozens of member institutions and buildings, each with its own foodservice contracts, exclusivity agreements, and non-competes. This makes it incredibly hard for local food providers to serve food on campus.
“They’re not only bound to that contract for their facility, but it could be a five-year non-compete. You can’t have any other vendors serving food on the premises. So it’s very limiting.”
Seeing how the lack of healthy food impacted local staff, and especially overworked healthcare workers, the BNMC team made it their mission to increase healthy food access across campus.
“Frontline workers have to be taken care of because they’re giving so much of themselves. So having this ability to provide fresh, perishable food that’s tailored to that lifestyle—at least we can help with food.”
The search for a fresh food solution began.
A Fresh-Focused Vending Technology with a Straightforward Contract
The BNCM team knew that the best solution would provide food 24/7, so they began by researching traditional vending and micro markets. What they found was not promising.
“With vending, the food is highly processed and lasts three years. As for micro markets, it’s kind of a big ask to go to a company and say, ‘Hey, we want to provide you with fresh, healthy food, but it’s going to take an entire conference room of square footage’.”
When the team discovered Byte at a conference, it was a clear match.
“We found so much synergy and alignment of our mission and what we were trying to do. Byte also made it so easy with the contract process and explaining how it would be more feasible getting into hospitals—it just made it easier.”
The BNMC launched a pilot Byte fridge in 2017 in the team’s Innovation Center building.
Healthier Food, Better Habits, and Staff that Want to Come to Work
The BNMC team partnered with a local farmer and grocery store operator, Julie Blackman, to restock the fridge regularly, survey customers, and optimize the menu based on preferences and trends. With an established operator, keeping the fridge stocked became a simple task.
“It was all of her existing product mix that she already had, like prepared foods, snacks, juices, and drinks. So it was really just activating them into the Byte machine. Not only are we supplying fresh, healthy foods—we’re supplying fresh, healthy, and local foods.”
Almost immediately, the fridge’s impact on the building’s tenants was tangible.
“People go to it regularly. It’s a habit now. I’ve actually had people tell me, ‘The reason I came into work today was to get a meal from my fridge’. It feels good to hear that encouragement.”
The Byte fridge in the Innovation Center became a common space for people to interact, drawing people back into offices even when they had the option to work remotely.
“We’re bringing people into the office, which causes more collisions, collaborations, and just helps to stimulate growth in the economy. Those are the secondary outcomes we didn’t expect to happen.”
Elizabeth and Marla quickly opened four additional locations in buildings across campus over the next couple of years, and after seeing the impact, they’re dreaming bigger than ever.
“We’re working on contracts with other institutions on the campus, but we want to expand across New York State and hit more of the hospital centers. Then we might look into college campuses, because students are in that same boat as healthcare workers.
It’s really about making fresh food available 24/7 to all of our stakeholders, employees, patients, visitors, and community members.”
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