He’s the man behind those snack attacks

HERE’S a little secret. Inside the snack vending business, the contents of the machine in your workplace are referred to as red, green or amber.

Baden Van Toor, manager of Tasvend, explained that little mystery this week. “Red refers to those products we’d consider comfort or energy food, with a high sugar content. ‘Green’ products are health foods, and between them is ‘amber.’ “When I took over as manager of this business six years ago, my first thought was that we should add more green and amber foods,” he recalls.

“At least, offer some things that people can snack on, but not something they’d worry about afterwards.” Are the margins there? “Yes, although probably not as much as your classic Mars or Snickers bars,” says Baden. “But we deliberately looked for ways to improve the offering, to sell responsibly and offer healthy options, if you like. “We like to think that if we look after our clients, our clients will look after us. I want to help people get through their day at work by providing some reasonable choices of what snacks are available to them.”

In the vending business, the person who refills the machines, usually two to four times a month – or sometimes weekly for busy sites – is called a ‘filler’ or more formally, a vending technician. It’s a job Baden has done many, many times. “Beyond the obvious, we need to check the machine is operating properly, the payment system is doing its job, and the machines are clean and hygienic. So ‘technician’ is pretty accurate.”

Like many businesses, Covid has been challenging for Tasvend. “Our model requires lots of people in one building,” he says. “So when people started working from home, they obviously weren’t using our service.” Tasvend focuses mainly on Southern Tasmania, with a business footprint stretching from New Norfolk and Brighton to Swansea on the East Coast and to Dover in the South. “Much beyond that and the current price of petrol is taking a large bite out of profitability,” he says.

So what is a good site for vending services? “Tasvend’s service is best suited to medium and large businesses or organisations that need access to a range of drinks and snacks,” he said. “Remote locations without easy access to a local store, such as communities beyond New Norfolk, find our services particularly useful.” Tasvend is now offering coffee vending using fresh beans. It’s proving popular and is an expanding part of the business. “We generally don’t need to solicit for business, because most of the time it’s coming to us,” says the Tasvend manager.

“Our advertising is on our uniforms and on our vehicles, running around five days a week. That works very well, and business comes in at a steady pace. “When a business is interested in getting our services, we assess the site to get an idea of the numbers of people and accessibility,” he says. “Sometimes we have to go that extra mile … I remember having to get a vending machine into the building by crane. That was a bit of a scary day.”

He is open to suggestions from customers about what products he stocks. “They need to be able to fit in the machine, and have a reasonable shelf life. “It’s taken a fair amount of time to build to that level. We’ve got a good business model, and I’m proud of it.”