Hy-Vee makes a big deal of health with increased diabetes focus

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa —A lot of things in the Midwest are bigger than in other parts of the country. And that includes retail. Hy-Vee, whose 227 stores average 70,000 sq. ft. and can get up to 80,000 sq. ft., also makes a big deal out of promoting health and wellness.

In January 2009, the chain became one of the first users of the NuVal nutritional scoring system. Developed by Topco Associates and Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., and also used by mass-merchandise chain Meijer and Northeastern supermarket chain Price Chopper, the system gives food items a score of 1 to 100 based on nutritional content. “It takes the guesswork out of nutritional labeling for our customers,” Hy-Vee assistant VP health and wellness Helen Eddy told Drug Store News. For Hy-Vee, it’s part of its effort to tie together nutrition and overall health through its pharmacies.

Pharmacists at four Hy-Vee stores lead special diabetes education programs, certified by Iowa’s state public health department. Three of the pharmacies offer education on insulin pumps, which patients with Type 1 diabetes often use to provide a steady supply of insulin rather than taking multiple shots per day. “There’s some pretty intense education that needs to go with that,” Eddy said.

No. of stores228
Stores with Rx225

Hy-Vee patients also can talk to one of its 135 in-store dieticians. The dieticians provide one-on-one counseling for patients with such metabolic diseases as diabetes and Celiac disease, as well as supermarket tours that take customers through the aisles and show them how to read food labels. Other resources include the Hy-Vee Health Market, a special section that stocks natural and organic foods, including bulk items, and the Hy-Vee Club Room, an educational space with a full kitchen that can hold 40 to 50 people and is used for demonstrations.

“You could be doing osteoporosis screenings, go beyond just giving [customers] a number?” Eddy said. One way the chain employs is offering them information about foods that strengthen bones.

The flu season—not to mention the pandemic H1N1 flu—also gives Hy-Vee the opportunity to tie in its pharmacy and food businesses. According to health experts, a number of foods—such as bell peppers and citrus fruits, which contain high amounts of vitamin C, and sweet potatoes, which are rich in respiratory infection-fighting beta-carotene—can help ward off the flu by boosting the immune system. “Many of the dieticians have information about flu-fighting foods and ways to boost immunity and stay healthy,” Eddy said.

Hy-Vee’s promotion of health and wellness extends beyond the store walls. In October 2009, the company joined the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a coalition of 40 retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, and nonprofit organizations with the goal of reducing obesity—particularly childhood obesity—by 2015 through an “energy balance” approach that emphasizes healthy eating and physical activity.

The effort will focus on reaching consumers through changes in products, packaging, labeling and promotional materials to help consumers manage their caloric intake and choose healthier foods. The effort also will create employer-based programs to promote healthy weight, and programs in schools in various metropolitan areas to help children ages 6 to 11 years develop healthy eating and exercise habits.

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