By Staff at VendingMarketWatch.com
Micro markets are a growing part of the vending industry, making up more than 10 percent of its revenue last year, according to Automatic Merchandiser’s State of the Vending Industry Report. As more operators enter the micro market segment, however, they are finding that licensing a micro market can be a challenge. There is not yet a national standard for licensing and currently it is being handled on a local level. This poses problems for operators, especially those who operate micro markets in different counties and states.
While some municipalities are requiring operators to license their markets as vending, others are obligated to register their markets as convenience stores and then apply for a variance. The process can be tedious and cost both time and money. But it doesn’t have to be if you have the proper tools to navigate licensing your micro markets.
Getting started: License micro markets first
So you’re an operator who is thinking about entering the micro market segment. Great news! But first, before even opening the micro markets, you should contact your county, state or city health department to obtain a license. “The earlier you begin the process with the health inspecting agency, the smoother the process will go and the less likely you are to be closed after opening or have to pay penalties for not licensing prior to opening,” said Eric Dell, senior vice president for government affairs for NAMA.
Each locality has a different license and inspection process, so before getting started, operators should contact NAMA’s government affairs team or call their county health inspector’s office for the county in which the micro market is going to be located. It will take some time upfront for you to contact each county health inspector’s office, especially if you plan to launch micro markets in multiple counties, but going through this process will save you time in the long run, especially if you have to close a micro market down due to incorrect licensing.
Don’t treat micro markets as vending
Micro markets are still finding their place in the industry, but most agree they are not vending and can’t be treated as such. Most enforcement agencies consider micro markets as retail food establishments, and under the recent guidance issued by the Conference for Food Protection, they are considered unattended food establishments. Micro markets will, most times, not be under a vending license, so operators should be prepared to provide additional documents and spend time learning the new process.
In some states operators have to apply for a convenience store license – in this case they then have to submit more documents because the micro market is unmanned. The documents can include route driver logs, cooler temperature logs and more.
Use contacts and create partnerships
Many operators have had to go through the process of licensing their micro markets, so it can be key to use resources that are already out there. Speak with other operators in your state and learn from them. Although their experience may vary from yours, they can provide insight for what to expect.
Reach out to your state and national associations as well. NAMA has worked diligently to have a national food safety standard created to assist by having one standard for health inspectors across the entire country. According to Dell, recently through NAMA’s urging, the Conference for Food Protection created a national guidance document for unattended food establishments (micro markets) which can be found here: http://www.foodprotect.org/media/guide/guidance-document-for-unattended-food-establishments-2016.pdf.
Advocating at a local and national level will also help health inspectors and legislators better understand the micro market concept as it continues to evolve. After you have successfully launched a micro market, invite local officials to view the concept and offer a Q&A. Or work with your state association to bring a micro market to a lobby day. Creating partnerships such as these will certainly help as the micro market segment grows.