AT A GLANCE
Name: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida
Outlets: 2 cafes, 1 coffee shop, 1 gift shop/c-store (Jacksonville HQ campus); 1 café, 1 gift shop (downtown Jacksonville); 1 café (Miami)
Dining Contractors: Sodexo (all Jacksonville operations); Eurest (Miami operation)
2010 Revenues (Jacksonville area operations): $3 million (cafes), $700,000 (catering), $500,000 (vending)
Onsite Employees: 5,300 (HQ campus only)
Daily Transactions (HQ cafes): 2,800
Avg. Daily Participation (HQ cafes): 32% (lunch), 19% (breakfast)
In an era when companies are cutting back or eliminating their onsite dining operations, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida has bucked the trend. The large Jacksonville, FL, based insurance company has not only kept its headquarters cafeteria open through the recent economic slump, but over the last few years added a second one on the campus, along with a coffee shop that is designed specifically to meet the needs of time-strapped hourly workers.
At those dining venues, employees are encouraged to embrace BCBSF's wellness and healthy living philosophy with discounts on healthy items. The company also makes healthier options the default choice where no preference is indicated. Plus, employees can earn extra cash for medical expenses simply by taking steps to stay in shape (see sidebar).
BCBSF has maintained a cafeteria at its headquarters ever since the campus opened in 1997 with two buildings. That cafeteria was complemented by a second full-sized eatery in October 2008, built to accommodate an influx of some 1,500 new onsite staff as well as to leverage the investment the company was making in new kitchen facilities to support the catering operations for its new onsite conference center.
“The employees we were bringing on campus were used to eating either from vending machines or going outside for lunch,” says Damian Monticello, corporate foodservice liaison for BCBSF. “We wanted to provide a convenient and healthy in-house option that everyone could easily access because the company still looks at onsite dining as an employee benefit. Having only one cafeteria at that point would have locked out most of our nonexempt employees because it would have been difficult for them to get lunch in their lunch break time windows.”
Hourly employees are also served by a third onsite foodservice option, a small café called Perks that is located on the ground level of the building where many of the customer service staff work. These staffers are especially constrained because their time away from their stations is restricted to ensure that enough are available at all times to field calls. Long lines at the main cafeteria were forcing many to forego the onsite option, so the company decided to provide a more convenient outlet, which opened in January 2007.
Perks offers coffee and other hot beverages, as well as cold bottled beverages, sweets and grab-and-go items all day — muffins, bagels and other breakfast-type items in the morning and salads and sandwiches later in the day.
Continuing the Amenity
The headquarters complex has some 5,300 employees scattered across seven buildings (another 1,500 or so work in the downtown Jacksonville building, which also boasts a full-scale cafeteria). The company also manages some 200 vending machines scattered across the headquarters campus and various Jacksonville satellite sites. These generate about a half million dollars in annual revenues.
The cafeterias bring in around $3 million and catering adds about $750,000 more. Sodexo, which took over management in 2008 at the same time that the second cafeteria opened, manages all foodservice operations for BCBSF around Jacksonville. (There's also a full-service cafeteria in Miami that is managed by Eurest.)
The headquarters cafeterias — the original one is called Café 100 and the new one Café 900 after the buildings in which they are located — operate continuously from 7 am until 1:30 in the afternoon, though a grab-and-go/coffee section remains open into the late afternoon hours. Perks is open from 7 in the morning to 5 pm. There is also a small gift shop/c-store that sells bottled beverages, packaged snacks and shelf-stable food items like cereal bowls.
The decision to open a second full-service cafeteria was driven by the desire to make onsite dining convenient for all employees, including those with limited meal time windows, but folding the production areas into the planned conference center foodservice operation certainly made the decision easier. Otherwise, the company could simply have “opened another Perks,” says Monticello.
BCBSF had wanted an onsite conference facility in order to eliminate the costs — in time as well as money — associated with holding meetings at leased offsite facilities. Now, with its new conference facility fully functional, company policy requires all meetings to be held onsite.
It includes a 10,000-sq.ft. ballroom and five breakout rooms that can be sectioned as needed. The center can host groups ranging from less than two dozen up to several thousand employees and guests such as prospects and customers. The kitchen caters business meetings, retirement parties, community outreach events and training sessions. The conference facilities are also available to nonprofit organizations with ties to BCBSF.
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Last year, the center hosted over 100,000 attendees at over 2,200 events. It is running at around 84 percent occupancy and 63 percent utilization.
The catering staff operates both the conference center foodservice and mobile catering for the rest of the headquarters campus, which generates about 30 percent of catering revenues. They are also cross-utilized in the Café 900 operation, which operates from the same kitchen.
The Health Imperative
As with many business dining operations, the encouragement of healthful dining habits among employees is a major focus of BCBSF's dining department. Launched in June 2006, the company's healthy dining initiative offers a 25% discount on the purchase of entrees marked with Sodexo's Your Health Your Way designation. (Your Health Your Way is Sodexo's corporate healthy dining program that develops recipes for items adhering to the company's standards for fat and sodium content, calories, etc.)
“One of the most common objections to more healthful menus is that it isn't affordable,” remarks Monticello. “We wanted to take that out of the equation, and with this program, we can get them to gravitate toward these healthier choices without worrying about paying more.”
He says that since the beginning of the program, the healthier items have seen a 400% increase, led by five core selections that constitute about 60% of the sales of all the discounted items (about a hundred selections qualify for the healthy discount). They include the Your Health Your Way entrée of the day, the chicken Caesar wrap, the healthy selection at the display cooking station, the grab-and-go crudite cups and “qualified” salad bar items.
To prevent diners from getting healthy dining discounts on salads loaded with high-fat/calorie ingredients, the salads must meet a plate weight limit and have no more than a two-ounce portion of dressing on the side. In spite of these limits, the “qualified salad bar” selection is the cafeteria's top healthy choice seller.
To promote healthful choices even further, BCBSF's policy is to make healthier items the default option if a diner does not make a deliberate choice for a less healthy alternative. For instance, sandwich combos come with carrot sticks as the default side unless the diner specifically requests chips, and sandwiches have whole grain buns unless white is specifically asked for (the same logic is used to promote sustainability, for example by making permanentware plates the default option rather than disposables).
Monticello also conducts sessions for employees on how to navigate the cafeteria to find the healthier choices and make better meal decisions, as well as how to find nutritional information about the selections online. Another topic is the vending program and the Vending Marketing Institute's Fit Pick program.
“At the end, we actually serve a meal that is a Your Health Your Way entrée so that people can get a visual for what a properly plated and portioned meal looks like,” Monticello says. “It shows them what the proper size of the protein should be, how much of the plate should be protein, how much vegetable and how much starch.
There are also community outreach sessions, such as on bring-your-child-to-work day, when employees' children get healthy cooking demonstrations. Last year the kids learned how to make perennial favorites such as buffalo chicken tenders and chocolate milkshakes healthier.
Special events are also hosted by Sodexo Executive Chef Thomas Sewell, who'll hold chef's table type events. There's also a trivia contest event where winners get a specially prepared multi-course meal in the cafeteria.
The two cafeterias are both full-service dining outlets, but efforts have been made to keep them distinctive in order to give diners more choices, and to serve the somewhat different populations each is located near.
Payment options include cash, credit cards and a declining balance program, introduced four years ago, which accounts for about 15% of all transactions.
The POS system prints bounceback coupons on the receipts. “It lets us drive business in a targeted way,” Monticello says. “For example, if we want to drive people to the 900 Café for breakfast, we may print a coupon the previous day at lunch that offers a free coffee or a 10% discount if you make a purchase at specific times at Café 900 the next morning.”
The system incorporates a series of standard messages that café managers can activate at their discretion, and also allows new distinct ones to be added. One of the most effective was a discount incentive designed to drive more business during the last half hour (1-1:30 pm) of the lunch period, when business was usually slow. It can also be used to promote specific menu items and stations and to introduce new offerings.
Employee Resource Groups a Great Dining Resource
One aspect of the BCBSF corporate culture that provides a positive spillover for the onsite dining operation is the company's roster of nine Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These are company sanctioned organizations of employees with common interests, needs or characteristics who operate on campus to provide support for members and education and outreach for those outside the group. They include groups dedicated to various ethnic groups as well as those representing groups like military veterans, the disabled, LGBT and Generation Y.
“They're a great resource for us to reach out to our employees and see what they are looking for in the foodservice program,” says Damian Monticello, corporate foodservice liaison for BCBSF. “For example, the AVAS Asian South Group told us that we were not offering enough choices for the strict dietary restrictions that they have, so we worked with them and they were able to identify a local restaurant that later agreed to partner with us, and which now operates our Indian food station in Café 900.”
They also worked with HOLA, the Hispanic group on Hispanic Heritage Month menus. “Accurate recipes from different ethnic cuisines are really important to us, and our relationship with the various ERGs gives us a good resource to turn to.”
The dining operation also caters events for the groups, from small board meetings to their annual celebrations involving several hundred. Group activities outside the BSBS-Florida campus also help the dining operation extend its outreach to the broader community by participating through its culinary expertise.”
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Like many companies, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida is making a concerted effort to promote healthy living practices among employees. Part of the company's strategy is to offer BlueRewards points that translate into “wellness dollars” added to an employee's health savings account (HSA) or health care flexible spending account. The accounts can be used to purchase healthcare and health-promoting services.
Each year, employees can earn up to $500 worth of wellness dollars by participating in certain retail health and wellness activities. These include…
undergoing an onsite personal health assessment,
using online retail tools and learning programs offered by BCBSF and online health services provider WebMD,
tracking physical activity through WebMD's Exercise Tracker,
completing wellness-related learning modules offered through the SkillSoft e-learning platform and
participating in company-sponsored wellness events.
Even getting a flu shot earns wellness points!
The personal health assessment generates points for various results. For instance, having a blood pressure reading in the ideal range (under 120/80) earns 50 points and maintaining that from the previous year earns another 25. Similar incentives exist for maintaining a healthy blood cholesterol level and a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI).