GREENACRES, Wash. -- Tidyman's here is giving customers a crash course in the Mediterranean diet right smack in the middle of the produce aisle, and the results are heartening, officials said.
Researchers have found that the diet -- which is heavy on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and olive oil -- reduces the incidence of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events. And Tidyman's officials said its customers are expressing gratitude for the opportunity to learn more about the diet right in Tidyman's stores.
Cooking up dishes that use fresh vegetables and fruits, offering tastes of them, and distributing a 28-page recipe booklet that also describes the diet are key ingredients in the effort. So are remote radio broadcasts from the produce aisle and on-site Q&A sessions with Tidyman's staff dietitian, Kate McMahon, and area health care professionals. It's all part of an ongoing team-up with the Heart Institute of Spokane (Wash.) to educate people about following healthier lifestyles.
"Produce is a perfect backdrop for this. It's good visually because the department is colorful and then it's a natural because fresh vegetables are important in the Mediterranean diet," said Patty Kilcup, director of consumer and governmental affairs for Tidyman's LLC, which operates 12 units under the Tidyman's banner and nine other price-impact formats.
"Also the way the [produce] department is situated, it's easy for customers to move through that area of the store," she said, noting that it's a wide aisle that starts off the traffic pattern in most Tidyman's units.
Colorful signs hanging from the ceiling in that aisle invite customers to pick up the recipe booklet, which is published by the Heart Institute, in the department. The booklet, "The Heart Institute Food Plan," is entirely devoted to the Mediterranean diet this year.
Each year, the Institute publishes diet guidelines with a different theme, and this is the fifth year Tidyman's has helped distribute them. Last year, the retailer gave away 35,000 of the Institute's Food Plan booklets in its Tidyman's stores and expects to distribute at least as many this year. In most cases, they're stacked in acrylic holders and either incorporated in a display or set on a stand.
"A week after we put them out, right at the beginning of the month [February is National Heart Month], we had stores calling to tell us they were running low, so we sent them more," Kilcup said.
She added that the booklets are also displayed at the front end of the store and, in some units, there's a stack of them placed in the deli or bakery department.
"That makes sense, especially with the Mediterranean diet being featured this year, because our whole-grain breads in the bakery and some of the lower-fat cheeses we have in the deli fit right in."
Produce is a standout department at Tidyman's and serves to give the chain a competitive edge, Kilcup said.
"Our customers know they can come here for top-quality produce, and we're always promoting it as the 'original fast food' to point out how convenient it is to eat fresh fruit and veggies."
Indeed, even with its demos that feature the Heart Institute's recipes, the chain is addressing customers' busy lifestyles. Staffers emphasize that the items are quick and easy to prepare. "We choose easy recipes because we want people to know it's a quick meal solution, as well as a healthy one. This program also gets people to try things they may not have eaten before, and they're often surprised that they taste so good."
Tunisian vegetable couscous and tomato lentil soup are examples that were recently prepared right in the produce department at Tidyman's. The demos are held each week in February at Tidyman's units and the remotes originate from a different store each week.
Kilcup said that when there are demos, and particularly when there's a remote broadcast, customers linger in the produce department longer than they normally would and are more apt to buy additional items.
This is the fifth year that Tidyman's has become involved with the Heart Institute's Food Plan booklet distribution and its customers look forward to the new edition each year, Kilcup said. The retailer helps finance the publishing of the booklet and also gets involved in other Heart Institute events.
"We're always looking for ways to get involved in the community and ways to help people lead healthier lives. Actually, that's part of our mission statement. And making the booklets available lets our customers know we care about them," Kilcup said.
The Heart Institute of Spokane is a regional organization that conducts research and educational programs and offers clinical care. Officials there told SN that its linkup with Tidyman's has been extremely beneficial in reaching the community.
"It's a great partnership. It enables us to reach twice as many people," said Jerrie Heyamoto, community relations specialist at the Heart Institute of Spokane.
The institute published 80,000 copies of the booklet this year and distributes them via various venues. Tidyman's, however, is the only supermarket that offers them, Heyamoto said.
Featuring the Mediterranean diet in this year's booklet is particularly timely, because the Institute is about to embark on a two-year study that will compare the results of following a modified Mediterranean diet with the results of following the American Heart Association diet.
The retailer sponsors five pages in the booklet and uses them to illustrate the pyramid and give customers tips on how to follow a modified Mediterranean diet without drastically changing their daily menu.