This monster coughs up healthy human treats

Goodie vending machine connects with new market
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Mette Hornung Rankin and Mark Jacobs have created a new, healthy snack food vending machine named the Goodie Monster.

Mark Jacobs and Mette Hornung Rankin think they've devised a way to help people turn away from junk food without being preachy.

They call it the Goodie Monster.

It's a 6-foot-tall vending machine dolled up with shag carpet-like fur to look like a friendly monster, placed on the ground floor of the Goldsmith Blocks, an Old Town building filled with artists and creative types.

The monster's four teeth and orange horns encircle the glass, revealing some snacks inside that aren't often found in vending machines: a variety of Kind bars made with almonds, cranberries, blueberries and apricots; Justin's Maple Almond Butter, dried mangos; Newman's Own raisins; Trader Joe's banana chips; Sahale pecans, cashews and other nuts; and a variety of Popchips, Luna and Clif bars.

Jacobs, a creative strategist at Jelly Helm Studio, says he's long been interested in health and wellness, and concerned about rising obesity. But merely talking to folks about switching to healthier foods doesn't work, he says.

'I've seen a lot of hungry, hardworking people fall in the junk food trap, and I wanted to put good food within reach, and in a fun, uplifting way,' Jacobs says.

He turned to Rankin, a collaborator on past creative projects, and owner and designer of the Bureau of Betterment, to craft a creative vending machine look.

She went to Fabric Depot and bought 12 yards of a lime-green fur that transformed a used machine bought via Craigslist into a cuddly monster.

The Goodie Monster ( wears a 'button' that reads: 'I (heart) human snacks.' Next to the machine is the monster's severed tail, extending from the wall. But this monster is likely to attract kids rather than scare them.

Great potential

Fortunato De Luna, an artist who has a studio in the Goldsmith building, has passed the machine with curiosity every day since it appeared on Halloween. He hasn't purchased anything yet, but De Luna thinks the Goodie Monster will be a hit, especially with kids.

Jacobs tried to stock the machine with products from companies that he thinks are socially responsible. He wanted to go beyond what he sees in some other vending machines that purport to sell healthy food, which, as he puts it, merely substitute baked Lay's potato chips for the deep-fried variety.

The machine was only up a couple weeks when he was interviewed for this story, and Jacobs hadn't even counted his money yet. But he figures the Goodie Monster is a hit based on comments he's received.

He's hoping to put more machines in locales with more foot-traffic than the Goldsmith Blocks.

Jason Pastega, cofounder of Skout Natural Foods, a Portland company that makes snack bars with natural ingredients, figures there's great potential to offer healthier fare in vending machines.

'There's such a push for living healthy, this is going to be something that people really appreciate,' Pastega says. 'Sales for natural and organic food are on a very steep rise, and vending is the last to jump onto that.'

But breaking into the vending machine industry will be tough, says Paresh Patel, president of Courtesy Vending LLC, a Portland company with about 2,000 vending machines.

Patel places machines in Portland Public Schools and other school districts, which are obliged by a 2007 state law to meet healthier nutrition standards.

Patel welcomes new healthier food offerings, and he had to work hard to stock machines in schools to meet the lower calorie, sugar and fat requirements of the state law.

One of the problems is that some healthy bars, such as Kind bars, don't meet those requirements. 'They're natural, but don't meet fat and sugar requirements,' Patel says. 'The fact is that the baked chips meet the requirements when the food bar does not.'

Standards adopted for Oregon schools - no more than 35 percent fat content, no more than 10 percent saturated fat content; no more than 35 percent sugar content, and no more than 200 calories - are rapidly catching on elsewhere, as more governments impose nutrition rules, he says. 'That's becoming pretty much the quasi-standard across the country,' he adds.

In about a year, Patel says, the federal government will start requiring all vending machines to disclose the calories in each of the products sold.

He's getting ready for that shift, with another Portland startup called Vend Screen, the digital screen attached to vending machines that allows users to match their nutritional needs with items in the machine. For example, using the touch screen, people on a low-salt diet, or who are allergic to peanuts or who want Kosher products could learn if products in the machine fit the bill.