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Hy-Vee Opens Online Health Forum

Hy-Vee’s Health and Wellness Forum on its website is only a few weeks old, but already it’s received several thousand views and there are more than a few ongoing discussions.

Pick any diet-related, health-related topic and it’s probably got a thread: Gluten-free, food allergies, exercise or organics. There are 17 topics divided into four sections: Special Diets, Fitness/Wellness, Lifestyle and the ubiquitous “Other.”

“We came up with the idea because of all the blogging and other social media going on,” Julie McMillan, one of Hy-Vee’s health and wellness supervisors, told me this morning. “It gives customers access to one of our dietitians kind-of 24/7.”

The West Des Moines, Iowa-based chain, winner of our 2008 SN Whole Health Enterprise Award, employs more than 100 store-level dietitians, offers nutrition and fitness programs, operates numerous demo kitchens and store tours, and connects consumers and experts through newsletters, a Q&A section on the Hy-Vee website and community appearances.

In keeping up with the changing times, the retailer has created the multi-topic forum as a more direct, timely way of interacting with customers interested in health conditions or lifestyle changes.

Hy-Vee, which, has assigned four of these nutrition experts to monitor the site for any new questions or discussions. The company’s IT department has set up an email notification system that alerts the group whenever a new query or comment is posted.

“Prior to this, it wasn’t as immediate. They could write in, and we would be forwarded the email to answer, or they could call and we would call them back,” McMillan said. “This allows everyone to see the question when it’s posted, plus everyone can see the responses — from us and other customers. It’s also more real-time.”

The most popular topic — a surprise to the Hy-Vee dietitians — has been Vegetarian. To date there have been more than 825 views and 3 active discussions. McMillan says everyone thought gluten-free or heart health would be the top traffic builder. But the insight will help shape future store tours, classes and lectures given by the Hy-Vee nutrition staffers, who plan to ad more topics addressing vegetarianism and veganism in the future.