Despite their best intentions, people can make poor decisions when it comes to eating well. After all, it’s a heck of a lot easier to opt for high-fat, fried food when the consequences of doing so—heart disease, clogged arteries,high blood pressure and diabetes—seem so far in the future.
So, what does it take to motivate people to make more healthful choices?
“Our employee wellness program—dubbed e Summit Fit Club—was designed as a novelty reward program to incentivize customers to make more healthful food choices,” says Michael Atanasio, Director of Food & Nutrition at Overlook Medical Center, Summit, New Jersey. “It takes away the confusion about what’s healthy and what’s not,” he adds.
“Each item sold in the cafeteria is awarded a point value; when employees check out, they swipe a reward card and the POS system tallies and records the points. For every 200 'wellness' points, the customer gets a $5 gift card good toward purchases in the hospital cafe.”
Such loyalty programs have become an increasingly common tool for onsite foodservice programs looking to increase employee engagement and help diners quickly identify and make more nutritious meal choices. At Overlook, it's also helped Atanasio increase sales by nearly $38,000.
Incentive-based employee wellness programs like this are enhanced by easy-to-follow signage, clever product placement, healthful themes, urban farms, culinary classes and even fat fees. But to be truly eff ective, they also need to off er food that looks—and tastes—really good, adds Mickey Venditti, executive chef and general manager at DDR Corp. DDR is located just east of Cleveland, OH, and is operated by Metz Culinary Management, which has put a lot of emphasis on recipe development for this purpose, says Venditti.
“Combine that with some smart merchandising techniques and the healthy option can be the most appealing one, too.”
Nutritious choices are not new to the cafés at UBS Financial Services in Weehawken, N.J. “Our goal is to make the healthy option the default option,” says Linda Tucker, executive director of Food & Conference Services. “For instance, if you order a hamburger here, it comes on a whole-wheat bun.”
UBS has also expanded its menu with more wholesome offerings, recently asking its provider, Restaurant Associates, to add vegan/gluten-free dishes to the menu and to replace all cured meats with uncured meats. She notes that the latter change meant moving to a new meat supplier and an increase in its annual food cost by $65,000. To off set that cost, UBS increased the price of sandwiches 25 cents and moved bacon from the hot breakfast bar, where it was sold by the ounce, to the grill station, where it is now sold as a portion.
UBS also reduced the number of proteins offered at each meal and increased the variety of cooked vegetables, legumes and grains. “We were pleasantly surprised to see that these changes didn’t impact sales one bit,” Tucker reports. UBS then rolled out the same changes to the company's catering menus.
“Every day, at least one guest tells me they’ve never had quinoa or amaranth or bean salad before and how surprised they are at how delicious it is,” she adds.
Ultimately, good food is good food. And if it it’s nutritious? A big bonus.
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Home to many of these updates, UBS’s Goodness! station runs a four-week menu cycle. One side of the station features a cold well with a variety of beans and grains; the other side rotates among RA’s wellness programs:
• Whole+Sum, a self-serve station that features a protein, starch and vegetable and asks guests “do the math” to create a 600 calorie meal,
• FIT bundles, which pairs up one entrée and one side for a healthy 600 calorie meal,
• and EatingWell, a partnership program with off erings based on recipes from EatingWell magazine.
Additionally, RA created “Healthier Value Meals” that reward guests for bundling healthy items together with a 15% discount.
“Our employees eat a high frequency of meals with us,” says Tucker. “It’s important that we give them the option of enjoying a healthy dining experience. Will it ultimately reduce UBS’s healthcare costs? Maybe. That’s not the only point, though. We want to fuel our employees in the best way possible and this is the common sense way to do so.”
A well-designed plan for signage can instantly and effectively communicate the overall presence of an employee wellness program. At UBS, a comprehensive signage program was developed to educate guests on caloric information as well as tips on how to eat healthier at each station in the café.
“Signage helps us to promote healthy eating and educate our employees without turning them away,” says Tucker.
Signage also plays a big role in Overlook’s employee wellness program. Its Summit Fit Club relies on the Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program, an approach originally developed for the retail grocery shopping industry. It helps diners identify nutritious choices with ratings that gauge the nutritional value of every available item in the facility, including hot and cold prepared foods, salad bar, grab-and-go items and beverages.
“It makes earning points for healthy choices easy,” says Atanasio, who worked as a trained chef earlier in his career. “We still serve the double bacon cheeseburger with fries, and if an employee wants to have that, it's available. But a choice like that won’t earn any points.”
Guiding Stars has also found success at a number of other onsite operations such as Hackensack University Medical Center, Bergen County, NJ, and University of New Hampshire Dining Services in Durham, NH.
“We took the program a step further by pairing it with our rewards-based incentive program,” says Atanasio, who worked closely with the hospital’s POS system provider to adapt its software for the Summit Fit Club.
Within weeks of its launch, more than 375 employees had signed up.
“We’ve done extensive marketing to make employees aware of the club,” says Atanasio. “We have digital signage at the lines to explain how the program works and have informed employees about the program via email blasts and physical flyers distributed in interoffice mail."
At DDR, an owner and manager of 459 value-oriented shopping centers, education is one of the three pillars of its employee wellness program dubbed “Live Well.” Te other pillars are application and motivation.
“We want to create a satisfying approach to health and nutrition,” says Venditti. “Tat idea is infused throughout the dining experience here. You see it in our locally sourced ingredients, our menus tailored to the tastes of our customer base, our emphasis on scratch preparation and in our commitment to offering vegetarian, vegan, heart-healthy, lower fat and other 'better-for-you' choices at every meal. Our goal is offer healthier options, build a good understanding of nutrition and encourage a move to healthier lifestyles."
Venditti and his team work closely with DDR’s Wellness Center Program Manager to promote wellness through annual health fairs and other special events. These efforts also carry over to DDR’s catering program. Live Well has been in place at DDR for nearly three years, and while many changes have been made to keep it on-trend, the core principles have remained the same. They include:
• Application: Live Well choices are are clearly identified and are promoted before guests even set foot into the facility.
• Education: Te operation seeks to present nutrition and wellness information in engaging, easy-to understand ways, via flyers and brochures, recipes, wellness tips and resource guides from national and local organizations.
• Motivation: DDR sponsors free cooking classes for employees in which chefs share tips on what to look for—and avoid—when grocery shopping, along with techniques to enhance flavor and nutrition at home. Metz also partners with preferred suppliers to hold Farmer’s Market Days.
You find similar efforts to encourage employees to see dining choices as a key part of a healthier and more rewarding lifestyle at Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE), Los Angeles. Tere, tying the employee wellness program into the bigger picture (pun intended) has been a critical part of its success.
“For years, Sony Pictures has provided employees and their families with access to health and wellness programs and services,” says Lucienne Hassler, senior vice president of administrative services. The key, she says, is "to empower them to make informed decisions that help them reach personal wellness goals.”
Recently SPE rolled out a new umbrella concept for these services named KENKO (It’s a Japanese term that essentially means holistic health and wellbeing.) KENKO grew out of SPE's efforts to coordinate the variety of wellness services it has provided for years, according to Hassler.
These include gym facilities in its Athletic Club, fitness classes, sports leagues, nutrition counseling available through SPE’s Health and Medical Services department, various health screenings, and, of course, an ongoing commitment to providing nutritious food and snack options during work hours, she says.
One benefit of this umbrella approach has been an enhanced ability to create cross-promotions, primarily between the Athletic Club and foodservices, to drive usage in both directions. For example, members of the Athletic Club can earn vouchers for the salad bar or a daily healthy meal special by hitting gym attendance goals. During March’s National Nutrition month, employees who purchased the healthy special or salad bar were entered into a weekly raffle for a $50 gift certificate at the Athletic Club.
“Ultimately health and wellness starts with the individual,” says Hassler. “But SPE—via KENKO—supports our employees by providing tools, resources and programs to help our employees flourish andsucceed at their highest potential.”