30 Laws in 30 Days: Unstaffed markets offer healthier options at the office

By Christina Ramey

Editor’s note: This is the 17th in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.

INDIANAPOLIS — Standing in front of the micro market in her office building, Laurann Rodriguez looks through the options. She browses four refrigerated sections of sandwiches, fruit and salads before grabbing a bag of chips from the shelves filled with nonperishable snacks.

But there’s no counter to check out with a cashier. Instead, she walks up to a computer kiosk where she inserts her card and pays for her snack.

“It’s very convenient,” she said.

Precedent Office Park, where Rodriguez works as a project manager, is one of at least 500 office buildings, factories and universities in Indiana with a micro market.

Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, said micro markets are a part of a new wave of technology in the food service business. In fact, the concept of an unstaffed market was so innovative that it was previously unaddressed in state law.

For the past five years, micro markets have operated in the state under a type of gentleman’s agreement with the health department, which offered guidance but did not have the full force of law. Ford wanted to secure the place of micro markets in the business world.

Senate Enrolled Act 77, which Ford authored, took the state’s general guidelines on micro markets and put them into law. That means most, if not all, shoppers won’t see any changes.

In addition to having five or more times the selection, micro markets offer foods that are healthier than what is usually found at a traditional vending machine.

“I think what has spurred their growth is wellness. So, with these you can put in large salads, healthier foods, but also you can track — an employee can track what they’re eating,” Ford said. “Some businesses will incentivize them to eat healthy.”

Micro market located at an office building. Photo by Christina Ramey, TheStatehouseFile.com

That helps Rodriguez on the days she’s too busy to leave the office and get food.

“If I’ve got an orange to pick from or a Snickers bar — versus just a Snickers bar then I think it’ll help people choose healthier options,” Rodriguez said.

Jeff Snyder, president of Indiana Refreshment Providers Association, said micro markets are seen as an employee benefit because they are able to offer more upscale food and provide a more relaxed atmosphere. With micro markets, employees can use loyalty cards and get discounts by bundling certain items.

“They’re looking for healthier alternatives, better choices, items that are going to help them potentially live longer,” Snyder said.

Micro markets tend to have fewer mechanical problems than vending machines, Snyder said.

However, not having a person running the market means there are times when they aren’t fully stocked or food may be old.

“I bought a salad one time and realized that it was a day or two after and I was like, ‘Oh I’ll try it,’ and it was a waste of $4,” Rodriguez said. “The frequency and the expiration for the higher end items, the sandwiches and things, are kind of tricky.”

Micro markets only sell commercially prepackaged food or ready-to-eat fruit. Rodriguez said when the food is fresh, it’s good.

“Better than just your average vending or coffee machine,” she said.

Christina Ramey is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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