Hy-Vee Launches 'Begin' Program

Actress Valerie Bertinelli may have Jenny Craig, but Hy-Vee shoppers have a new weight-management program that includes nutritional counseling, workouts and even $10 Hy-Vee gift cards for those who meet their goals. Registered dietitians conduct the 10-week course, which helps clients identify healthy foods; regulate food intake; and develop a fitness routine. Customers don't

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Actress Valerie Bertinelli may have Jenny Craig, but Hy-Vee shoppers have “Begin,” a new weight-management program that includes nutritional counseling, workouts and even $10 Hy-Vee gift cards for those who meet their goals.

Registered dietitians conduct the 10-week course, which helps clients identify healthy foods; regulate food intake; and develop a fitness routine.

“Customers don't have to stock ‘special’ food or feed their families something different than what is on their diet plan,” Hy-Vee spokeswoman Christine Friesleben told SN. “They learn to make better choices from the vast array of products already stocked in the aisles.”

Begin is available in 110 Hy-Vee stores that have a dietitian.

Four 10-week sessions are held each year. Weekly one-hour meetings cover portion control, emotions and eating, reading food labels, eating right and physical fitness. Clients weigh in each week and keep food and exercise logs when they are at home.

“They learn it's possible to prepare meals quickly, so they're not tempted to opt for fast food; they learn the benefits of moderation and that they can indulge in their favorite foods once in a while,” said Friesleben. “And when the class is over, they have a manual of tips, recipes and helpful resources so they can continue the journey on their own.”

Each 10-week session costs about $100, although the amount varies depending on the store and services offered. At the Hy-Vee in Waverly, Iowa, the charge is $90 for 10 weeks, but participants get a $10 Hy-Vee gift card for 100% attendance or achieving their weight-loss goal.

At the Hy-Vee in Dubuque, Iowa, the fee is $130 for 10 weeks, which includes weekly one-hour meetings, according to Megan Dalsing, the store's registered dietician who runs the program. Twenty-five people who range in age from their late 20s to their 70s are currently enrolled, according to Dalsing.

The first 10-week session kicked off in January. Half of each class is devoted to nutrition; the other half of the session involves exercise in the store's events room.

Dalsing said the program is unique because while national weight loss programs offer nutrition counseling, Begin features registered dieticians with special training.

“If someone joins Weight-Watchers, they don't have a registered dietitian at their disposal,” Dalsing stressed.

The program makes perfect sense for Hy-Vee because of the wide range of merchandise its stores carry.

“The supermarket is basically our pantry,” she said.

Dalsing uses food from Hy-Vee's shelves to prepare healthful recipes in class.

“We bring a lot of foods into the room and do demos,” she said. “I show them how easy it is to make things like edamame dip.”


While much of the focus is on fresh food and the perimeter departments, the Center Store is a key part of the curriculum as well.

“Participants are shown that a lot of packaged foods can be part of a healthy diet,” she said.

Begin is the latest example of Hy-Vee's health-oriented positioning. The retailer has offered free blood pressure screenings, glucose testing and demos on heart-healthy meals. Some stores even offer “Hy-Vee Walkers,” in which participants walk five laps around the perimeter of the store, equal to 1 mile. All participants get a starter kit that includes a free pedometer, food samples and coupons.

Other retailers are also positioning themselves not only as food retailers, but food educators.

More than two-thirds (68.3%) of retailers polled as part of SN's 2007 Survey of Center Store Performance said they planned to bolster their health and wellness positioning over the next 12 months by implementing nutritional shelf tags and signage. They also planned on doing so via newsletters and online information (36.6%) and health-focused in-store lectures (19.5%).

And while many retailers also have in-store dietitians and nutritionists, Hy-Vee's Begin takes nutrition-based retailing to the next level, said Jon Hauptman, a partner at consulting firm Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill.

Hauptman said the initiative could build loyalty by providing a more personalized service to customers.

“It demonstrates how retailers are differentiating themselves not only through products and prices, but also knowledge and information,” he said.

What makes the initiative so novel is that Hy-Vee is making good use of the wide range of products sold in its stores.

“Who better than a supermarket to provide such a service?” said Hauptman. “Supermarkets have everything that a shopper needs to eat more healthily, from fresh produce and meats to packaged foods.”