SAN ANTONIO — Hy-Vee is working to ensure that each of its 228 stores, regardless of size or location, has access to a dietitian, said Randy Edeker, president and chief operating officer of the West Des Moines, Iowa-based chain at last week's 2010 Reinventing CPG & Retail Summit, hosted here by SymphonyIRI.
Hy-Vee currently employs 135 in-store and three corporate dietitians, but in some of its operating areas only one dietitian is available per county. The retailer is working to grant access in some of its smaller stores through dietitian-sharing programs.
“If you have a child who has a nutritional health need, or you yourself have had a heart attack; if you have diabetes; or celiac disease, where do you go?” Edeker said. “Most would go to the hospital in these counties. We saw a huge branding [opportunity] with granting access to our customers right inside their store.”
By building its reputation as a credible health information source, Hy-Vee hopes to forge a deeper bond with shoppers than can be attained through the promise of low price, Edeker said.
“If we sell pork and beans for 25 cents and we're 5 cents cheaper than our closest competitor this week, then we've gained their loyalty until next week,” he said. “But if we save a loved one's life or helped them change their life, we'll have their loyalty forever.”
The chain is helping shoppers make healthier choices even when a dietitian is not around. Last year, Hy-Vee adopted the NuVal system that assigns foods a score from one to 100. The higher the score, the more nutritious the food. The system has become an important tool in helping shoppers bypass misleading marketing claims, noted Edeker.
“I recently looked at two products; one was a mainstream item and the item next to it had one-third less sugar, but its NuVal score was lower than the regular item's because it had an enormous amount of sodium,” Edeker said.
Hy-Vee is working to improve shoppers' quality of life in other ways. Its in-store club rooms are equipped with full kitchens so dietitians not only teach shoppers about diseases like diabetes and ways to manage cholesterol, but also demonstrate how to prepare inexpensive meals that are healthy, noted Edeker.
Hy-Vee also dedicates resources to several programs focused on the health of children. Among them is Exercising Character. In partnership with Character Counts, Hy-Vee sponsored Go the Distance Day, part of the Iowa Sports Foundation, which brought together 9,000 fourth and fifth graders to learn about the importance of good character, staying active and being fit.
“This is one of the programs that I'm most excited about,” said Edeker. “One of the best ways to move our company forward is to help our customers move their kids forward in the right way.”
Hy-Vee has also gotten behind PE4life, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to quality physical education in inner-city schools. The retailer will help 50 schools implement the program over the next five years.
The Hy-Vee Kids Triathlon is another way in which the chain is encouraging youth to set and achieve their fitness goals. Now in its fourth year, the companion event to the Hy-Vee Triathlon is expected to draw 1,000 children ages 5 to 12. Ten percent of participants will be underprivileged kids outfitted by Hy-Vee with swim gear, helmets and bikes. The retailer hopes to double participation, and exceed the size of the largest children's triathlon, held in Australia.