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Snacking Smart

Sterling Resident Offers Some Smart Snacks

When Stephanie McMahan and her husband surfed the Internet for a new home business, she came across the idea for healthy vending machines.

"I’ve seen vending machines in schools and in offices. There’s nothing but junk food out there," McMahan said. "So I decided to help get the junk out."

The former budget analyst wanted to start up a business from her home in order to spend time with her 11-month-old son, Aidan. The vending machine business allows her to do that.

THE VENDING MACHINES are stocked with healthy alternatives to potato chips, sour candy and sugary sodas.

McMahan fills her machines with Pirate’s Booty, made from rice and corn and just 130 calories, Fruit Leather, an alternative to Fruit by the Foot, Cliff Bars, Organic Milk, gluten- and dairy-free Hansens Natural Sodas and Vitamin Water. She picked her products based on the most popular selling snacks at health-food grocery stores Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

"I think it’s going be very well received in this area," she said, "because these are tasty snacks."

McMahan tailors her vending machines to the places she serves. For example, the 100 percent fruit snacks she includes in vending machines that serve children’s stores and studios, she might leave out of a vending machine at a business or office building.

IN AN EFFORT to get her business out there, McMahan began making cold calls and drop-in visits to business in and around the county.

"It's been a slow process, but we’re building relationships," she said.

The Sterling resident has yet to land a deal in Loudoun County, but her vending machines can be found at Fort Belvoir Hospital and Grandmaster H.K. Lee Tae Kwon Do in Herndon.

When McMahan approached Gail Wright Lee, co-owner of H.K. Lee Tae Kwon Do, with the opportunity to house a SmartSnacks vending machine in her studio, Lee said the decision was a "no-brainer."

Lee, a health-food nut herself, said the vending machine falls in line with the martial arts way of life.

"Martial arts is all about improving yourself, your mind and your body," Lee said. "It’s just a good thing."

For a long time, parents asked Lee to provide the students healthy snack options.

"We’re not a day-care center, we’re a martial arts studio," she said. "Now the students have options."

While Lee said she would like to get rid of the other two vending machines that stand next to SmartSnacks, she said she will keep them for now because the snacks inside are slightly cheaper.

"That’s the way it always is," Lee said. "you have to pay more for healthy snacks."

WITH JUST a few customers under her belt, McMahan said she didn’t realize just how tough the vending machine business is.

Major companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola dominate the vending machine business.

"Coke and Pepsi have a big hold on the market. I didn’t think it was going to be this complicated," McMahan said. "I’m not asking anybody to replace those vending machines. My vending machines are just a healthy alternative."