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United's Million-Dollar Wellness Plan

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They say you can’t put a price on your health, but investing in it is another matter.

That’s the attitude adopted by United Supermarkets, which is putting more than $1 million into an updated and expanded wellness platform. Both customers and employees are covered the various initiatives, which range from discounted premiums for associates who demonstrate healthy living habits, to more extensive store tours.

“We looked at the kinds of requests that come in on a regular basis,” Robin Hawkins, United’s director of healthy living, told us by phone. “Guests with diabetes wanted to know how to shop our stores, or people who were looking for low-sodium and low-fat foods. Food allergies constantly came up, too.”

The result of that input is the hiring of two additional staff dietitians (for a total of four) and the creation of weekly, aisle-by-aisle expeditions with names such as “Healthy Shopping 101”, “Healthy Heart Cart” and the kid-friendly “Hunt for Good Nutrition.”

“We’re taking a different approach. Let’s just walk and talk see what you can eat. It’s really not that scary,” Hawkins says.

The efforts span the store. As part of the platform, Chris Wilson, the retailer’s corporate chef, will introduce a spring and summer Living Well menu for the chain’s Market Street banner. The meals feature seasonal ingredients and meet healthy nutrition guidelines set by United’s dietitians. The pharmacy is also involved.

“We’re doing education with our pharmacists, starting next week, to have them include some recommendations when they’re interacting with guests,” notes Hawkins.

For example, a person newly diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease might use a store’s pharmacy to fill a prescription without thinking about the role diet plays in their condition. Pharmacists will now alert shoppers to the availability of the dietitians, store tours and complementary food products.

“We’re trying to fill that gap from bedside to the store shelf,” Hawkins tells us.

Starting in April, the chain will highlight healthy products in each aisle handpicked by Hawkins and her dietitian colleagues. The “Dietitians’ Top Picks” shelf talker complements the store-wide NuVal nutrition rating system (pictured above) adopted by United in 2010.

“What it means is that we’ve gone through that bread aisle and we’ve picked out the best choices and we’re going to have a tag to indicate those items,” says Hawkins.

In other words, anyone can always shop with a dietitian, as if they’re actually walking down the aisle with them. In anyone’s book, that's priceless.

[Photo credit: United Supermarkets]

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