‘Smart Fridges’ are providing healthy food options on IU’s campus

Farmer’s Fridge is planning to place 10 to 12 more “smart fridges” on IU’s campus as part of their upcoming expansion plan.  

The Chicago-based company produces and maintains smart fridges, which are about the size of a vending machine, that feature a variety of healthy food options including salads, granola bowls and sandwiches. In addition to airports and hospitals, Farmer’s Fridge has placed smart fridges on more than 50 college campuses across the Midwest and Northeast, including at IU-Bloomington. Currently, there is already one Farmer’s Fridge smart fridge in the Simon Music Center.   

Syed Shah, Farmer’s Fridge vice president of sales, said the company decided to start placing these vending machines on college campuses nine years ago with the goal of making healthy food accessible and affordable for college students. He said the company found a need for smart fridges on college campuses after seeing many food establishments had limited hours or food options.  

Related: [How IU organizations are fighting food insecurity on campus]

“You might have a handful of large-scale dining halls that are located somewhat centrally but you don’t have healthy food options at every single place,” Shah said. “We’re really there for the 24/7 folks who need access all hours of the day.”  

Shah said Farmer’s Fridge works with campus dining organizations to appropriately place and manage the smart fridges.

“Typically, we work with campus dining to understand what placements would be beneficial for them and the student base,” Shah said. “So, with IU right now we’re actually currently working on an expansion plan to bring 10 to 12 more machines on campus and the dining team really helps us locate those spots.”  

Shah said that the company determines which food is placed in smart fridges based on a series of algorithms.  

“We have technology that looks at thousands of different variables to determine exactly what we should put in the fridge based on what we think the demand is going to be on that particular day,” Shah said.  

Shah said the use of these algorithms helps the company decrease food waste from the machines. The company also donates leftover food to decrease waste. Additionally, he said the food in the fridges, which is shipped from Chicago, is switched out up to two times a day, seven days a week. 

IU freshman Cadence Crane said she plans to use the new smart fridges on campus. Crane feels that besides salad bars in dining halls, she and her peers do not have access to healthy foods on campus.  

“For example, at the burger place you can get your burger and fries, but there’s not necessarily any vegetable options there,” Crane said. “It’s hard to think about having to go and wait in another line after that to get vegetables. So, maybe just make more evenly dispersed vegetable options.”  

According to IU Dining’s website, dining halls maintain food options that can cater towards different diets and nutrition preferences including vegetarian, vegan and Halal options. IU All-you-care-to-eat dining halls also have plant-based alternatives and allergen free options. Additionally, students can utilize IU Dining’s online NetNutrition tool to find nutritional and common allergen information, as well as plan meals around their personal nutrition goals. 

Related: [Rises in “all-you-care-to-eat” food waste puts strains on IU Dining workers]

Currently Farmer’s Fridge smart fridges do not allow students to use meal exchanges or dining dollars to purchase food.

IU freshman Amelia Xanders said she would be more likely to use the Farmer’s Fridge vending machines if there is an option to allow students to use meal exchanges or dining dollars to purchase food. 

“If there was a way potentially where dining dollars can be used or something like that, that’d be really beneficial because those are already included in food plans,” Xanders said. “I know a lot of people want the extra healthy food, but they don’t have the extra money or income to spend.”  

While specific options and prices may vary by location and date, the typical cost of Farmer’s Fridge items range from $6 to $9 per item.