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FIM Capstone: Team ‘Healthness’ Urges Grocers To Make Health A Priority

Team Healthness, from left: Isabel Gallon, Ralphs; Richie Betancourt, Dean Foods; Sam Foltz, Heinen’s; Cassy Martin, Fred Meyer; and Aaron Miller, Earth Friendly Products.
Team Healthness, from left: Isabel Gallon, Ralphs; Richie Betancourt, Dean Foods; Sam Foltz, Heinen’s; Cassy Martin, Fred Meyer; and Aaron Miller, Earth Friendly Products.

On Jan. 8, 2018, 32 people began a 16-week journey through the Food Industry Management (FIM) Program at USC’s Marshall School of Business. The students, from various industry segments (retailer, wholesaler, manufacturer), were divided into six teams to work on capstone projects. Each team tackled an industry issue or opportunity that will be important in the next five to 10 years.

All six teams presented their research on April 24 during USC’s Education Day, with only two being chosen to present their projects at the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC) convention in May in San Antonio, Texas. One was Team Waste to Wealth; the other, Team Healthness.

Team Healthness, or the Healthness Partners, comprised Sam Foltz, Heinen’s Grocery; Cassy Martin, Fred Meyer; Richie Betancourt, Dean Foods; Isabel Gallon, Ralphs; and Aaron Miller, Earth Friendly Products.

The team focused on healthy living and how grocers can contribute to the health of their shoppers. Statistics show that about 610,000 people die from heart disease every year; an average of 4,000 people are diagnosed with diabetes daily; and 30 percent of cancer diagnoses are food related. Food, in fact, links all of these diseases.

Foltz noted that a recent Pew Research Center study asked Americans what keeps them up most at night, and healthcare was ranked third, right behind terrorism and crime and ahead of poverty and unemployment.

“Why can’t grocery be the healthcare provider for the future?” Foltz asked. “There’s a huge problem in our society, and our industry is becoming the root of the symptoms. In 431 B.C. Hippocrates said it best: ‘Let food be thy medicine, let medicine be thy food.’”

The Healthness Partners say organizational change is needed for this focus on health and wellness. Grocers, they say, need to start now, and start from within, to become “healthness” partners to their shoppers.

Gallon said that in-store wellness clinics are “the gateway to deliver a different experience to our customers. The goal is to support our customers with a personalized approach that is innovative, proactive and profitable. Holistic models vary in investment and commitment, so we encourage you to visualize one that better fits your business.”

The benefits of in-store clinics spread to the entire store.

“There are case studies that show that many of the in-store wellness clinics have the potential to yield higher weekly revenues than seafood and bakery departments,” Gallon said.

Other benefits include enhanced customer connections, greater competitive advantage and increased foot traffic in the store.

Betancourt said technology is an important component of becoming a healthness partner for shoppers.

“Picture this: You, like 90 percent of Americans, operate a smartphone. You take it out, jump on your Healthness Partner app, and you click on the physician tab where you see last week’s doctor’s appointment, where a diagnosis and treatment plan were given. Next, you jump over to the pharmacy tab and see that your prescription is updated and ready to be picked up. As you walk into your local grocery store, you jump over to the nutrition tab and you see a personalized diet plan that is linked to healthy items in that store that are connected to your rewards account. Finally, you shoot over to the exercise tab and you see a recap of your morning workout.

“Sound farfetched? There currently is a progressive company that is on a mission to change the way America eats through technology,” said Betancourt, referencing Healthy Savings.

“Healthy Savings has a five times higher engagement rate than other health and wellness programs,” he said. “To date, users have saved over $1.5 million on healthy items at local grocery stores. Members purchase produce 70 percent more of the time than non-members, and the largest retailer in the U.S. just signed up to participate in this program.”

Miller said if an organization does not have a chief wellness officer then it’s already behind.

“What we want you to do is go back to your companies and have your best minds look into how health and wellness can be a source of profitability and a competitive advantage in your businesses,” he said. “This starts with having at least one person working full-time on this in your organization—a wellness manager, a chief wellness officer—ideally, both. This isn’t something we can continue to lump on the plates of an already overburdened HR group any longer. It’s simply too important and the stakes are too high to make it just another bullet point on somebody’s already-long to-do list. Why do we have a risk manager and not a wellness manager? Isn’t wellness a risk that needs to be managed? We feel that it is. It’s a risk to our health, a risk to our society and it’s a risk to our bottom line.”

Grocers need to consider whether there is someone in their organization already that can be put in this role. If not, they need to start looking for that person immediately, said the team. This person needs to be chosen carefully, because they will be the champion of wellness programs within the organizations.

It’s also important to extend this focus on wellness to employees in the workplace.

Martin said, “Associate wellness programs work. It’s a proven fact. In January of this year, the University of Illinois published a study examining the 50 million associates that participate in employer-run wellness programs. It found that for every active participant, your company saves $1,500 vs. a non-participant. If you have 5,000 employees, that’s $7.5 million saved every year.

And for every $1 invested in an associate wellness program, you reap a $6 return on saving operational costs and absenteeism.

“But the most important part of these programs is the associate and their commitment to stay with the program.

“Once you have your roots in place, then you can get started on the real work,” Miller added. “That’s about focusing on developing your associates. They’re our most valuable resource, and we need them to be examples and advocates for the type of change we want to see within our own companies and that we want to draw into our companies from the outside. I know many of you have done a great job of starting down this path, but there is so much more work that needs to be done and such a great opportunity in front of us.”

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