Retailers are growing baskets while shrinking waistlines
with healthy living programs
Hy-Vee shopper Charla McNabb's first attempt at weight loss was marked by regular trips to her local grocery store.
But satisfying a carb craving or stifling hunger pangs weren't on her agenda. Instead, she was gaining insights about weight control, fitness and eating for good health at weekly “Begin” meetings, held in the conference room of her Columbia, Mo.-based Hy-Vee.
A year after completing the 10-week lifestyle management program, McNabb has shed 64 pounds, her Begin instructor and Hy-Vee dietitian Paula Vandelicht told SN. Now in its second year, the program is churning out similar success stories at about 125 Hy-Vee locations and in the offices of area businesses.
Although outcomes vary from class to class, usually between 50% and 75% of participants in Vandelicht's program meet their fitness goals.
“I've had several that have lost 20 to 25 pounds during the program, but even if they didn't meet their goal or if the goal was just 5 to 10 pounds, they still learned how to eat healthy and improve their quality of life,” she said.
During an initial session, participants meet one-on-one with their course instructor to assess their fitness level and weight loss goals.
“We try to get a sense of what's causing them to stay overweight,” said Donna Dolan, Hy-Vee's health and wellness supervisor.
Blood pressure checks, cholesterol tests, girth measurements, body mass index readings and an assessment of energy expenditures for the day are sometimes performed.
Subsequent hour-long sessions include: weigh-ins; activities like trainer-led fitness instruction, a supermarket tour and healthy recipe demonstrations; and tips on everything from avoiding emotional eating to 50 ways to burn 100 calories. Participants also keep daily food and activity diaries.
Hy-Vee rewards those who've met their weight loss goals and/or have had perfect attendance with $10 Hy-Vee gift cards, said Dolan. Although course fees vary by location, enrollment usually costs about $100.
Meeting attendance is usually “pretty good,” but Dolan recently added to the program's interactive elements to make it better.
“We're trying to increase the retention rate and get the groups to bond so that they become very supportive of one another and keep coming back,” she said.
At the suggestion of class participants, Dolan also added the “Are beverages going to your waistline?” topic to the course, and moved the supermarket store tour closer to the beginning of the program.
Suggested class sizes range from eight to 12 participants but have had as many as 43 students, said Dolan. Though most of Vandelicht's students have been middle-aged, they've ranged from a 12-year-old who was accompanied by a parent, to 75-year-olds. “Sometimes having the younger students mixing with the older ones makes it a little more fun,” she said. “Despite the age gap, they bond and encourage one another.”
Dolan recognizes that keeping shoppers coming back for one another not only improves their chances for success, but also increases the likelihood that they'll continue shopping at Hy-Vee.
“Absolutely, it's helped to build shopper loyalty,” she said. In fact, she anticipates that the 100 or so Hy-Vee locations that don't have a dietitian may consider hiring one in order to bring the program to their store. “We're moving to that next level where more stores are seeing the benefits, so the program will only grow,” she said.
Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill., applauds Hy-Vee's efforts.
“They've developed a model that ensures shoppers come to your store for 10 weeks,” he said. “Someone might say, ‘Gee, I need a pilates mat,’ and Hy-Vee will say, ‘Oh, we have them over here, and you really need to be changing your diet to include these kinds of food, and oh, by the way, here they are.’”
Participants are also likely to combine their weekly Begin obligations with pantry stocking and fill-in trips, noted Ted Taft, managing director of Meridian Consulting, Westport, Conn. “People were interested in one-stop shopping even before the price of gasoline went up,” he said. “So if you're headed to a meeting, you also might pick up that night's dinner.”
Grocers who lack the resources to facilitate similar programs can reap comparable benefits by offering up space in their stores, suggests Wisner.
“If you have a community room, why not just make it available to the people who are conducting the Weight Watchers meetings in order to get the foot traffic?” he said.
While Hy-Vee's Begin is developing shopper habits by requiring a commitment of its participants, Matthews, N.C.-based Harris Teeter has designed its Your Wellness for Life program to be accessible to a broader audience. All materials needed for the free, 15-week, self-guided program are available online.
The life enhancement program's guide includes tips on how to estimate food intake, manage weight and read a food label. These and other topics are also addressed in video presentations accessible at www.harristeeter.com.
Also included in the course are spreadsheets, on which participants are encouraged to record the number of steps taken during walks that day.
Program participants also strive to earn 16 points daily. Points can be earned for consuming a certain amount of fiber (the quantity increases as the course progresses), drinking eight glasses of water, consuming zero trans fats, and completing a short breathing exercise four times, among other tasks.
Though the program can be completed independently, Your Wellness for Life references features and products that can only be obtained in Harris Teeter stores.
For instance, it heavily promotes its private-label items in the seven-day meal planner it's designed for the course. One dinner comprises the chain's 3-ounce Fishermans Market Alaskan salmon, 1 cup of cooked Farmers Market broccoli sauteed in H.T. Traders extra virgin olive oil and garlic, and ½ cup of H.T. Traders Basmati brown rice.
Harris Teeter's approach is a particularly timely way to incite trial, especially given the reasonable price image that store brands enjoy, said Wisner.
“Some people will do their own thing and substitute products where they think they can, but other shoppers will say, ‘It says to eat this, maybe the other brand is different, so I better just go with this,’” he said. “It will cost you a lot less, so not only will you reduce your calories, but also your budget.”
To ensure a successful program for its shoppers, Harris Teeter first offered Your Wellness for Life to store associates last year. Over 200 employees participated in the program.
The approach has the potential to not only enhance the shopper experience, but increase workforce efficiency, said Wisner.
“If a customer comes in asking about the course, they can say, ‘I did that and it was pretty cool’ — it also makes them feel better about the work they do,” he said.
“If you can reduce illness in a proactive way, you'll cut down on absenteeism, increase productivity, lower turnover — the list goes on and on.”
Indeed, it was escalating health care costs that led to the development of Hy-Vee's Begin program, explained Dolan.
“We had been working actively with the Lighten Up Iowa program, but we thought we needed something more than a weight loss challenge, and businesses in the area asked us to come in and host weight loss programs,” she said. Today, in addition to the meetings hosted in-store, Hy-Vee's dietitians teach the Begin program at worksites to class sizes that average about 10 people.
Dorothy Lane Market is also whipping its workforce into shape.
In May, the Dayton, Ohio, retailer hosted its first DLM's Food Lovers' Fit Club, an eight-week weight loss contest for employees.
“We started to push for the contest after the relative poor participation in our smoking cessation classes,” said Tom Hart, director of DLM's Oakwood location. “I remember us talking and saying something to the effect of, ‘Geez, we should have a weight loss contest. There are more of us that want to lose weight than want to quit smoking.’”
The contest kicked off with a meeting that was hosted “on the clock” in each of DLM's three locations by healthy living educator Lori Kelch. She distributed information folders and goody bags containing DLM water, a notepad, a DLM pen, and Lara Bar and Hodia tea samples. Weigh-ins took place after the meeting, and about 100 employees vied for prizes, including a $500 Visa card for first place, a $300 card for second and a $200 card for third. Employees also competed on store teams. To ensure that every participant got something, a $50 DLM card was awarded to the first-place store, a $35 card to the second-place store and a $20 card to the third.
Employees received points both for losing weight and for every 30 minutes of exercise they completed.
“We offered weekly support meetings off the clock and found they weren't well attended, so we stopped after two,” Joy Kemp, DLM's healthy living director, told SN.
The first-place employee lost 44 pounds, while the second-place finisher weighed in at 40 pounds lighter. DLM may someday invite shoppers to participate in its contest.
“We talked about having a contest for consumers but haven't pursued it yet,” said Kemp.
The retailer is planning another employee contest for January.
“Some changes we talked about are to put a cap on the amount of exercise you can do in a week, and to somehow make it more fair, since it is easier for men than women to lose weight, and younger people often have more time to exercise,” she said.
10% of shoppers are successful in eating healthy all of the time.
Source: Food Marketing Institute's Shopping for Health 2008 study