FMI Health & wellness conference puts all pieces—and players—together

LAS VEGAS —For the more than 260 supermarket executives and suppliers that gathered on May 11 at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Convention Center, the first edition of the Food Marketing Institute’s Supermarket Health and Wellness conference was an important opportunity to examine strategies for promoting health and wellness to supermarket shoppers by utilizing the entire store and every department in it.

The new event, which grew out of FMI’s old Supermarket Pharmacy Conference, co-located with FMI 2010, and sought to bring together the companies and the teams within those organizations that “have responsibility for the many aspects of health and wellness delivered to customers,” FMI VP pharmacy services and health and wellness Cathy Polley told Drug Store News.

“Attendees joined us from pharmacy, nutrition services, fresh foods, human resources, consumer affairs and human strategies. This type of attendance shows that all parts of the store are needed to develop and deliver an integrated approach to creating comprehensive health-and-wellness programs for customers. We were pleased to welcome back the many pharmacy partners we’ve worked with over the years while engaging with a broader group involved in making health and wellness a reality in the supermarket,” Polley said.

Sharon Glass, group VP health and wellness for Catalina Marketing, gave attendees a look at how retailers and vendors can partner to empower customers to make healthier purchasing decisions. According to ongoing shopper research compiled by Catalina, while most consumers believe their supermarket carries the products they need to eat healthily, only 36% believed that the store helps them to manage and/or reduce health risks and concerns.

With roughly 40% of households with children reporting that they regularly feed their kids fast food, the implications for the nation’s health are extremely dire; this is the first generation of children whose life expectancy is shorter than their parents, Glass noted. At the heart of many shoppers’ poor shopping decisions is a lack of information about the healthy foods and products that are available to them. For retailers and vendors, the first step is about chipping away at the myths that drive poor eating habits.

For instance, 64% of shoppers Catalina interviewed believed that low-calorie foods are too expensive, only 51% believed that there is a low-calorie option available to them and 40% simply believed that low-calorie foods don’t taste good. However, generally speaking, consumers seem to believe that making small changes in their lifestyles and diets can make a big impact on their overall health.

These findings gave birth to a program called Simple Substitutes, a pilot Catalina spearheaded with a key group of retailers and a small group of noncompeting brands, including Special K, V8 Fusion Light and Land O’Lakes Light. Through the program, shoppers that purchased certain types of items were selected at the register to receive coupons, recipes and other types of informational messaging that tied into new, lower-calorie offerings from one of the brands. The back of receipts included the message to the customer, “Try this Simple Solution Today,” with a tip for a recipe using one of the new, lower-calorie products, a coupon to try the product or some other offer.

The results of the pilot indicated that this type of messaging could produce lasting changes in consumers that could play a huge role in the success rate of new, better-for-you food products. Trial rates ran significantly higher among consumers that received the offers, and anywhere from 62% to 76% of shoppers that tried one of the new items involved in the program intended to repurchase the product.

In back-to-back sessions, Hy-Vee VP human resources Sheila Laing and assistant VP health and wellness Helen Eddy talked about how Hy-Vee had worked to create the organizational structure to promote health and wellness—not just to customers, but to its own employees, too—as well as how to leverage the healthcare professionals that already exist within the company to drive those programs.

Building from Hy-Vee’s corporate mission to “make lives easier, healthier and happier,” Laing talked about the companywide commitment that is shaping and driving such programs as Live Healthy Hy-Vee, an offshoot of the national Live Healthy America program that challenges consumers, communities and organizations to compete against other groups to meet certain health and fitness goals.

Hy-Vee offers the program to all of its employees 19 years and older, and it is making a major impact—not only on the lives of Hy-Vee associates, but also on total healthcare costs, both for the employee and for the company. For every $1 Hy-Vee has invested in the program, participants have lost about 1 lb. In five years, the 21,000 employees who participated in the program have lost more than 163,000 lbs. And in that time, only 12% of the total population of participants had repeated the program in any two years during that five-year period, suggesting that the changes and weight loss have been lasting.

In another program Hy-Vee calls Healthy Lifestyles, which is a component of the company’s medical plan, Hy-Vee encourages its employees to meet certain health-and-wellness goals, such as quitting smoking, by lowering the cost of coverage for participants. For example, Laing explained, an associate who uses tobacco and enrolls in the program receives $5 off his or her weekly insurance costs.

In addition, as Hy-Vee identified savings in its health plan as the average claims cost per associate began to fall, the company opted to share that savings with its employees. Twice a year, including the week before Christmas, Hy-Vee waives the weekly cost of coverage, effectively putting money back into the pockets of its employees.

Importantly, Hy-Vee is using its own people as much as possible—its pharmacists and dieticians, primarily—to drive its Healthy Lifestyles program, including delivering smoking-cessation programs, as well as diabetes management, health screenings and more advanced health coaching. For example, at $150 a person, the cost to deliver a smoking-cessation program is the same whether Hy-Vee uses its own healthcare professionals to deliver the program or hires someone else to do it. The difference is, Laing explained, “instead of paying it out, we are paying ourselves to do it.”

The next step has led Hy-Vee to begin selling these types of services to companies and community organizations at significant savings. In the case of biometric testing, Hy-Vee is able to sell health-screening services for $40 a test—about half of what a company would typically pay to have its beneficiaries receive such a service. The net effect is that, in addition to driving down its own healthcare costs, Hy-Vee’s Healthy Lifestyles program is emerging as a new profit center for the company.

Fittingly, the inaugural event was kicked off with a keynote address delivered by White House chef Sam Kass.