Food-as-medicine case study: Ahold Delhaize USA shares multi-discipline approach for successful programs

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Ryan Daily
Source: Ryan Daily

Related tags ahold delhaize food as medicine

Blending health, nutrition, merchandising and IT expertise, Ahold Delhaize USA launched numerous successful food-as-medicine programs as part of its overarching Foodcare strategy, a panel representing the grocery retailer or banner shared during a session at the Food as Medicine event in Chicago last week. 

Ahold Delhaize USA operates several grocery chains on the East Coast, including Giant Food, Hannaford, Food Lion and Stop & Shop. Ahold Delhaize USA serves 30 million customers a week in both rural and urban settings, said Steven Jennings, stakeholder relations and brand lead, health and sustainability and founder for the retailer.

Ahold Delhaize USA ditches the food as medicine naming convention, uses ‘Foodcare’ instead 

When Ahold Delhaize USA developed its food-as-medicine discipline, executive leadership and stakeholders worried how consumers might interpret the phrase "food as medicine," Jennings admitted. 

Instead, the retailer decided to use its own terminology and called the overall strategy Foodcare, he said. The debate on whether or not to use the food as medicine phrase was a reoccurring point of discussion in various event sessions, including the opening panel​.  

“Food as medicine sounds a little scary for some of our internal partners or stakeholders. ... We are there to hold their hands on this journey, and Foodcare is about inspiring and empowering consumer choice on their healthier living journeys. It is not about shaming. It is not about pointing to this or that. It is about meeting our customers and associates where they are on their specific healthcare living journey," he said.

Echoing the sentiment, ​Mandy Katz, director of healthy living at Giant Food, explained that Foodcare helped her team communicate with executive leadership about the goals of various programs and receive executive approval for projects.   

"Foodcare has really given us the language that we can use when we start our strategies together when we start talking to our leadership about it,” Katz said.   

Ahold Delhaize USA’s Foodcare initiative focuses on three core pillars — guide, curate and nourish ​— he added. 

Giant Food food-as-medicine wins: Incentive buying, Produce Rx programs

Katz shared "two really big wins” for Ahold’s Foodcare strategy and the lessons her team learned in the process.

Giant Food’s customer incentive program rewards consumers for purchasing healthier food was one success, Katz explained. Additionally, Giant Food’s first Produce Rx Program​ — where Medicaid recipients received a $20 coupon to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at Giant stores — helped the organization understand how best to develop a food-as-medicine program moving forward, she added.

“We learned how those little vouchers that we started with do not work in our stores. We learned about gift cards and how gift cards are lovely ... but you cannot filter them, and you do not know if the partners who are getting and buying those cards are actually able to distribute them, and the people receiving them are using [the gift cards] for the things they want, or are they buying other essentials like toothpaste and toilet paper — which is just as important — but it does not go towards the programming," she said.

Using Guiding Stars to make shopping for healthier foods easier 

Ahold Delhaize USA partnered with nutrient-density scoring company Guiding Stars Licensing Company to provide a visual cue in-store for consumers searching shelves for healthier foods, said Elizabeth Marble Caton, brand and nutrition manager at Guiding Stars Licensing Company. 

Guiding Stars takes nutritional information for foods and beverages sold at Giant Food stores and assigns the product a 1-3 star ranking for good, better and best to inform consumers on what is the most nutritious, Carton explained. The ranking is depicted by an apple icon with the corresponding number and is displayed next to a price tag in Giant Food stores.  

Guiding Stars not only helps consumers find better products, but it helps inform how Ahold Delhaize USA markets healthier and more nutritious foods and beverages, Katz noted. 

"Guiding Stars is our love language that we speak constantly to our merchandising team. ... [Our healthy merchandising manager] is constantly working with Elizabeth, figuring out why products may or may not earn stars, but she is also helping us to look at the way we market health in-store,” she added.   

Partnering with IT for successful food-as-medicine programs

In developing its Foodcare programs, Ahold Delhaize USA addressed several technology limitations, which impede the implementation of several programs, the panelists shared. 

When Ahold Delhaize USA started accepting a health benefits card from a third-party vendor, the retailer’s payment system was unable to process the card transaction, which frustrated consumers, Jennings explained. 

The Ahold Delhaize USA Foodcare team requested and received “a non-budgeted IT upgrade to the tune of ... several million dollars" to make the benefit cards work with the retailer’s payment system, he said.

The Foodcare team used this experience to shore up its communication and collaboration with Ahold Delhaize USA’s IT team and technology partners, including electronic-voucher company iQPay, to ensure this issue would not happen again, Jennings said. 

“We cannot invest that money on the slim margins that we operate on for every single card that comes along the way. So, this is when working with our IT partners, we created internal teams [to do] discovery around what are all the cards of market [and] what are the most common systems."

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