by William Beisley
The bespectacled Meg Widholm, 40, has a childlike effervescence as she opens the door to one of her Snack Like a Local vending machines in the Old City co-working space Indy Hall. Her short, dyed-red hair pairs well with her casual, cool-older-sister outfit comprised of a long-sleeve shirt, faded jeans and beat-up sneakers. She points inside the machine to a seltzer, a chocolate bar and a bag of pretzels—seemingly average vending machine fare. It’s with closer examination that a customer would notice that the seltzer is from Boylan’s in Teterboro, N.J., the chocolate bar is infused with coffee beans from Philly Fair Trade Roasters, and the bag of pretzels are made in Mohnton, Pa., by Uncle Henry’s Bakery.
“Our main focal points for products are locale, nutrition and price,” Widholm says. “There are a million products that would be amazing in this capacity that are produced on the West Coast. We want to raise the bar for Philly and hold out for snacks made here to invest in the local economy and keep our reliance on fossil fuels down.”
Products in Snack Like a Local vending machines, snack racks and tabletop snack stands are priced from 75 cents for a Day’s soda to $5 for a Philadelphia Fair Trade chocolate bar.
“People have only recently started caring about where their food is coming from, and the labels on them aren’t always that helpful for people,” Widholm says. “[We] will hopefully raise awareness of the difference between produced-in versus distributed-from.”
Widholm’s ambition for Snack Like a Local goes beyond providing healthy, local snacks—she wants to help other companies increase the availability of their products by getting them thinking of new distribution options, shelf-life and packaging. “Local artisans aren’t thinking of packaging for vending machines,” she says. She’d love to find artisans who are so she can carry more produce-based snacks, like dried fruits and dehydrated vegetable chips.
Snack Like a Local supplies snacks for companies like NextFab, Northwood Academy Charter School and the local nonprofit Philly AIDS Thrift. In early November, Widholm began providing weekly wholesale delivery service to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She describes the initiative as “instantly successful” and restocked their stand within a week of her first delivery.
“I didn’t go to school for business, so it’s been bootstraps for learning and trying things,” says Widholm. The Kingston, N.Y., transplant has worked as a computer programmer for over 10 years and is currently a part-time technologist with Health Partners Plans. While she still enjoys working in the technology field, a few years ago she became “fueled by the political climate that led to the Occupy movement” and decided to start changing her focus. “I wanted to make a productive change to our economy to balance the scales with the established, mass-producing industries,” she says.
Snacking like a local is not all politics and economy, however. It’s also about pleasing her customers. Widholm recalls an email she received from a woman whose son is diabetic and has celiac disease. The email described the mother’s disbelief and elation when her hungry son pointed out a Snack Like a Local machine at Philly AIDS Thrift that stocked Emmy’s gluten-free macaroons.
“It’s a perfect example of why I do what I’m doing,” she says.
Visit snacklikealocal.com for inquiries and information on their services.