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Yo Naturals
Yo Naturals vending machines will be installed in several Utah schools soon.

Snacks in vending machines across the Wasatch Front are about to get healthier — with a national vending-machine company entering the market and a West Jordan woman receiving start-up money to begin a similar business.

San Diego-based Yo Naturals Inc. is delivering vending machines with healthy snacks to eight sites, including the Discovery Gateway children's museum and secondary schools in Granite and Alpine school districts.

And Elizabeth Dehart, a West Jordan mother of two, won $10,000 this month from Advanta Corp., based in Spring House, Pa., for her business idea, Healthy Vending Solutions, which she hopes to develop into a company that will provide healthy food in vending machines for schools and companies. Dehart posted the idea on ideablob.com, a Web site in which registered members of the site vote for their favorite idea.

Her idea comes a time when childhood obesity is at such high levels, it's considered an epidemic. Congress required wellness policies in all school districts by 2006 for vending machines and nutritional education. The Utah State Board of Education has considered banning junk food in vending machines but backed off in December for fear it would jeopardize local control.

The board instead required districts by January 2009 to submit to the state their policies on vending machines and other food not distributed through the school-lunch program. Vending machines bring in $3.75 million for student programs in secondary schools in Utah.

The Yo Naturals vending machines will arrive in about three weeks, said Nick Yates, a sales manager for the company. The schools that will get the machines American Fork and Lone Peak high schools in the Alpine School District, as well as Central High School and Matheson, Wasatch, Bennion and Churchill junior high schools, all in the Granite School District.

Alpine School District spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley said her district has eliminated soda from all junior high schools and has been stocking vending machines with healthier food. The presence of Yo Naturals machines, however, will be alongside machines that sell junk foods.

"They aren't getting rid of the soda pop. We're adding these," Bromley said of the Yo Naturals machines. "We're wanting to see the response of the students."

Mark Trotter started Yo Naturals 2 1/2 years ago. With 30 years in the vending-machine industry, he believed he could be successful selling healthy food. He started with 10 machines in the San Diego area. The company now has 12 warehouses, delivering snacks to 70 distributors in 110 cities across the United States. Among the 500 snacks distributed are Pirate's Booty baked snacks, Cliff bars and Horizon Organic milk.

Dehart believes that having Yo Naturals in town will actually make people think more about vending snack foods, and that factor will help her business. When she was brainstorming her business idea, she considered becoming a franchiser for Yo Naturals machines, but couldn't afford the $50,000 owner-operator fee. She's in the process of writing her business plan for her own company with her husband.

Natural food is a necessity in Dehart's home. Her daughter has had skin allergies from food with certain artificial dyes and preservatives.

Dehart envisions vending machines that dispense juice boxes and milk instead of soda pop, and fruit or healthy organic treats instead of potato chips and candy bars. Dehart's goal is to price food from 75 cents to $1, which would be comparable to the prices of junk food in vending machines.

Both children and adults tend to eat healthy at home, but when they're at school or work, they eat vending-machine foods that are often starchy, fatty or sugary, said Dehart, who worked for a decade in the medical field before she had children. She believes that if people are given a choice, they — and even many children — will choose healthier foods.

She plans to use the $10,000 from Advanta to purchase new and used vending machines, which cost from $1,000 to $4,000. She hopes find schools in the next month that want to be her customers, and she eventually wants to expand into offices.

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