In a study that compared sales volume and revenue in the years before and after the introduction of a Deakin University-wide healthy drinks policy, sales of the healthiest drinks more than doubled after the changes were made, as did the revenue from the machines.

Project lead Dr Miranda Blake, a Research Fellow at the Institute for Health Transformation’s Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE), a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention, said sales of the healthiest drinks such as still and sparkling waters increased 121% and sales of moderately healthy drinks, such as flavoured milks, tripled.

“At the same time, we saw sales of the least healthy drinks, such as sugary soft drinks, fall as a proportion of overall sales,” Dr Blake said.

“Deakin has more than 50 vending machines across its four Victorian campuses and revenue from those machines doubled during the three-year study phase, driven by an increase in the sales of healthier drinks,” Dr Blake said.

“On average, each purchase was healthier with four teaspoons less sugar per drink sold. For the daily consumer, that is equivalent to nearly 6 kilograms less sugar per year.”

Dr Blake said the research findings, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed consumers were willing to change their buying habits when healthier alternatives were on offer.

“Healthy changes in retail settings like vending machines are often seen as a choice between profit and health but these results show that a carefully designed policy can be good for consumers’ health and good for business.”

Changes made as a result of the healthy drinks policy introduced in 2018 included:

  • Introducing traffic light labels where green represented the healthiest products and red the least healthy,
  • Increasing shelf space for healthy drinks and reducing space for unhealthy drinks,
  • Placing healthy products at eye level and removing machine branding for unhealthy products,
  • Removing large 600 mL full-sugar soft drinks from sale completely.

Mr Chris Livaditis, from Deakin University Campus Services said implementation of the Deakin University Food Charter took a holistic approach by considering convenience for consumers in machine payment and placement, improving the availability of healthy products, and promoting eye-catching healthy machine branding.

“These health-related changes have exceeded our expectations and with the selected product range growing our revenue and the updated technology allowing us to track sales around the clock, we look forward to the next phase of our vending strategy,” Mr Livaditis said.

Dr Blake said food and drinks available in vending machines in public and private spaces in Australia were overwhelmingly unhealthy.

“This study shows that it is possible for business to provide tasty, healthier choices that people want to buy,” Dr Blake said.

“Customers should therefore expect and demand that public and private providers do better to support their health.”

Related: Deakin’s healthy vending machines tackle bad snacking habits