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Selling Kids On Healthy Snacks

Susan Campbell

April 21, 2010

It's mid-morning, and Beth Kerrigan is checking the stock in a vending machine full of healthy snacks at Hartford Public High School.

Not long ago, Kerrigan was a plaintiff in a court case that legalized marriage equality in Connecticut, and now that that's settled, and attention has turned elsewhere, a girl's got to make a living. Now, Kerrigan wants to bring healthy snacks to the masses, starting with five Yo-Naturals vending machines in Hartford, two of them at Hartford High.

It's a scary thing, launching a new business in today's climate, and Kerrigan is sufficiently nervous. Still, this morning she was greeted at the door by a uniformed security guard who reassured her that students have been using the machines, though because of contracts between the school and food contractors, Kerrigan has been told that students may visit her machines only during certain hours of the day.

That's just one hurdle she intends to leap. Kerrigan has another job, selling long-term care insurance, but with what she hopes is a renewed interest in eating healthy, she's banking on making a living from granola, yogurt and multi-grains. The revolution is here, and the weapons are low-sugar organic juice and fortified water.

"I think the time of eating crap is dead," said Kerrigan, as she checks the line of Pirate's Booty puffed rice and corn. That the bags are selling slowly surprises her. Her sons love the stuff.

In February, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama launched what the first lady called a "very ambitious" plan to end childhood obesity in a generation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the last 30 years, has ill effects both short- and long-term, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and several types of cancer.

The idea is to establish good eating habits early, before the addiction to sugar and salt kicks in and we live out our lives covered in a dusting of Doritos.

Back when Kerrigan competed in triathlons a couple of decades ago the choices of healthy snacks were limited mostly to Clif bars, but now she can stock her vending machines, based on popularity with students, from a choice of about 600 products. She hopes to have a taste test soon at the school.

But first, a few more kinks. At the HPHS machine near the food court, a glitch prevents students from paying with debit or credit cards. Kerrigan will figure something out, she says, as she pushes her handcart back through the school doors. Though the machines are just a few weeks old, she's already thinking maybe her 8-year-old sons can take over the business when they're older. People have to eat, and it might as well be a Kashi bar.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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