Michael Petronaci, the CEO of Organic Pharmer, demonstrates a new vending
machine to employee Adelaida Martinez.
Visitors and employees at Saint Michael’s Medical Center won’t
have to travel far for a healthy lunch or snack any longer.
The hospital began offering a health vending machine right next to its cafe.
The Organic Pharmer vending machine dispenses health food, drinks and snacks
free of commonly known allergens: gluten, corn, soy, dairy and egg.
“This is about food as medicine,” said Michael Petronaci, CEO
of Organic Pharmer. “Our mission is to provide access to tasty hand-prepared
foods that are nutritionally sound with clean ingredients. Very often,
what we put into our body is overlooked and we’ve had to turn to
medicine to heal what could have been fixed through simple dietary changes.”
Organic Pharmer started as a storefront in Rye Brook, N.Y. and now has
expanded into vending machines that can go pretty much anywhere.
One of the founders, Dr. Susan Blum, is a functional medicine physician,
and she ensures that every ingredient used in the meals has a medical
reason and health benefit - making them nutritionally sound. Blum is also
the author of the best-selling book “The Immune System Recovery
Plan” and her most recent book “Healing Arthritis.”
When Petronaci joined the company a year and a half ago, he said he wanted
to find ways to make its products available to a wider audience at various
price levels. The idea of offering the food through a vending machine was born.
Saint Michael’s is the first location for Organic Pharmer’s
vending machine, Petronaci said, with more rolling out all year.
The vending machine had an advocate in Tracy Hubbell, the regional assistant
general counsel for the Northeast for Prime Healthcare, which owns Saint
Michael's. Hubbell, a vegan, works out of Saint Michaels and was looking
for a healthier alternative.
“Food is medicine, and I am very excited that Organic Pharmer is
committed to Saint Michael’s, offering our employees, patients and
visitors fresh, healthy, and very tasty foods,” Hubbell said. “I
love the way I feel after eating their food.”
The Organic Pharmer vending machine does not work like typical vending
machines that dispense junk food or soft drinks. There is a tablet on
the door that shows all the products, ingredients, nutrition and price
that are in the fridge in real time.
“To open the door, simply swipe a credit card,” Petronaci said.
“When you've decided on a product, grab it and close the fridge
door. Once it's closed it will register what you took and charge you.
Add your email to the tablet for a receipt and you are good to go.”
While the price of the Organic Pharmer products tends to be more than a
typical fast food lunch, Petronaci said comparing organic, vegan food
to chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks isn’t a fair comparison.
“We try to get our price point as low as we possibly can, but products
we use in our food are going to be a little more expensive,” Petronaci
said. "At the end of the day, you have to make a decision: Do I want
to spend a little bit extra now to provide myself nourishing food, so
I don’t have to pay later in health care costs? It’s a preventative