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Expo West: How Whole Foods Controls Healthcare Costs


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It was the chocolate fountain that did it.


The fixture, part of Whole Food Markets' flagship store at the base of its Austin, Texas headquarters, reminded co-CEO John Mackey of just how far the retailer had departed from its founding principals. It would have to go.

This scenario was recounted by Adam Reiser, executive director of  Engine 2 For Life, a company that's been helping Whole Foods administer its popular Health Starts Here initiative.

"John Mackey felt they had lost their way, that they had turned into something other than what they had originally intended," he said.

Health Starts Here, introduced to customers in January 2010, was an answer to the dilemma and served as a way Whole Foods could re-commit to its original mission. The comprehensive program provides products and support for participants looking to improve their health through the foods they eat.  Engine 2 contributed much of the framework for the program, all of which came from he popular Engine 2 Diet plan created by Austin firefighter and triathlete Rip Esselstyn (if ever there was a perfect name for a triathletic firefighter, that's it).

More than help customers, however, Mackey wanted to inspire his own employees to improve their health. The retailer employs more than 57,000 people, is self-insured and spends $200 million annually on employee healthcare. Working together, Engine 2 For Life and Whole Foods embarked on a plan to reduce costs by helping its team members. 

The result? Six months after launching, the program has helped employees reduce their weight by an average of 7%; systolic blood pressure rates by 15%; diastolic blood pressure by 14%; triglycerides by 11% and LDL cholesterol by 11%.

"It's an ongoing effort, three years in, but it's very encouraging," Reiser noted. " Some of these people work in the bakery and face temptation every day."

Engine 2 and Whole Foods Market will begin unveiling the Engine 2 food line, exclusive to Whole Foods Market. First on the list of several products to unfold over the next 10 years:, including:

  • oil-free pasta sauces
  • oil-free salad dressings
  • frozen Engine 2 entrees 
  • Rip's Big Bowl cereal
  • E2 cookies
  • The effort shows just how much of an impact there is when employers treat their workers as customers. No matter what incentives are used, engaging employees in this manner — evaluation, education and support — proves the old adage that healthy people cost a business less.

    Discuss this Blog Entry 4

    Matt Molinari (not verified)
    on Mar 10, 2012


    Interesting stuff. I think what realy resonates is that companies should treat their employees like customers. In terms of health care, it is two fold. First, healthier workers are going to work harder for your business and cost you less in lost time. Second, healthy workers are going to be happier overall and especially more pleased with their employer.

    Diane Wong (not verified)
    on Mar 12, 2012

    Thank you for the information. Will spread the word that Whole Foods is serious about health.

    Anonymous (not verified)
    on May 20, 2012

    How much has WFM reduced it health care costs? I would like to promote this concept with my employer, but I need to make a credible business case.

    Chris Curran Dombrowski, D.O. (not verified)
    on Oct 18, 2013

    This is the future!! Don't depend on allopathic physicians to advise you on your nutrition. Do your research and plan accordingly. There is no such thing as "healthcare" in America; it called "disease management."
    Godspeed from the island of Guam!

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    Liz Webber

    Liz Webber is Senior Digital Manager at Supermarket News. She covers fresh foods for the magazine and creates multimedia, blog posts and other content for the website. She joined SN in August 2012.

    Julie Gallagher

    Julie Gallagher’s delicious foray into coverage of the food industry was purely accidental. With a background in technology, she joined Supermarket News as associate editor of its Technology...
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