MINNEAPOLIS - General Mills is demonstrating its commitment to the food and vending industries' campaign against the upswing in obesity by becoming the first site to participate in Sodexho's "Your Health Your Way, On the Go" healthy vending program. The program is available to General Mills' 3,000-plus employees at the company's headquarters here.
General Mills is also seeing to it that vending operators can build the well-rounded portfolio of wholesome snacks and nutritional information they need to foster healthy lifestyles among their patrons.
In May, General Mills partnered with Sodexho, its foodservice and vending provider, to kick off a month-long "all-healthy" vending program in all 24 machines at corporate headquarters. The plan for the months following was to transition to a more moderate mix of healthy and indulgent products through Sodexho's new "Your Health Your Way, On The Go" wellness-oriented vending program.
As General Mills' onsite foodservice provider, Sodexho first launched its "Your Health Your Way" manual feeding program at the corporate cafeteria, and General Mills administrators targeted vending as the next logical step in seeking to enhance the wellbeing of their employees.
According to Kirstie Oster, General Mills manager of corporate public relations, concern over employee health has been ingrained in the company's culture over the past half-century. General Mills recognizes that healthy employees are more productive and loyal, and Oster reported that its wellness initiatives have paid off tenfold in many ways, including reduced absenteeism.
Onsite health-oriented services at General Mills include weight loss programs, a fitness center and a wellness clinic for preventive medical care, including eye exams and dental maintenance.
"It's logical that a company that makes nutritious products, and is so focused on wellness, should make healthier products more available through vending," she commented.
During the month of May, General Mills vending patrons were able to purchase only healthier fare that met Sodexho's "Your Health Your Way, On the Go" guidelines from company vending machines. Snacks selected for the program have 200 calories or less per serving, 35% of calories or less from fat, 360 mg. or less of sodium and at least 1 g. of dietary fiber. They are also low in saturated fat and trans fat free.
Snacks can also be eligible for the program if they provide 10% or more of the daily value of one or more important nutrients, such as protein, fiber, vitamins A, C and E, calcium, iron or another vitamin or mineral.
While General Mills favorites, including its "Chex Mix." "Nature Valley" granola bars and "Pop Secret Light" popcorn, featured prominently in the vending menu, wellness-focused items from other snack manufacturers included PepsiCo Foodservice and Vending Sales' "Frito-Lay Baked Lays," "Baked Doritos" and "Rold Gold Pretzels," Kraft/Nabisco "100 Calorie Snack Packs," Kar's raisins, nuts and trail mix, and Dole "Fruit Bowls."
Stocking the machines exclusively with products meeting widely accepted nutritional guidelines was an approach that used exaggeration to capture employee attention, and to make a point, explained Tommy Hillman, marketing manager , vending for General Mills.
"We wanted to encourage our employees to see that they can snack in a healthy, wholesome fashion from the vending machines. And we wanted them to realize that they don't have to sacrifice taste to eat better," he said.
Each employee was provided with a token to encourage trial of a healthy product from the new machine menu. Hillman added that employees still had access to their favorite "indulgent" snacks in the cafeteria and at the employee store on campus , they just had to walk farther than the vending machine to obtain them.
General Mills found that vending patrons at company headquarters were truly interested in purchasing more wholesome products, supporting its plan to increase the percentage of "healthy" items that were in its traditional planogram prior to the launch of "Your Health Your Way, On The Go."
Before implementing the program, the load plan for Sodexho's General Mills machines included 12% of items qualifying for Sodexho's "Your Health Your Way, On the Go" program. Sodexho has now successfully increased the ratio to 20% better-for-you fare.
According to Sodexho's general manager at General Mills, Robert Horrocks, sales were steady during the first two weeks of the 100% "healthy" vending program in May, and dropped off to 50% of average weekly sales for the final two weeks. There were, surprisingly, some pockets of buildings where sales stayed steady when merchandised with 100% "healthier" items.
"The most positive result of our initial phase of the 'healthy' program in May is that we gathered clear data on the types of healthier snacks customers preferred, and identified the highest sellers, instead of guessing," Horrocks told VT. "It also gave us valid insight on what happens when you take away all traditional snacks, and demonstrated what we already knew: that you have to provide traditional choices as well. Our customers made that clear."
The Sodexho general manager added that with 20% of snacks falling under the better-for-you criteria, machine sales have rebounded to the volume they were generating when stocked with only 12% "healthier" options. All machines are merchandised with the same planogram, with the exception of one vender in a common area that will continue to offer 100% health-focused snacks, alongside a beverage machine merchandised exclusively with non-carbonated drinks.
Banners on the vending machines throughout General Mills inform patrons that they feature "Your Health Your Way, On the Go" selections, and display icons and their definitions that indicate the health benefits of marked selections, such as low sodium or low fat.
The machine selling only snacks that fit Sodexho's "healthy" vending criteria also provides nutritional information on a placard that helps patrons make informed purchasing decisions based on their dietary concerns.
The "healthy" vending program on the General Mills corporate campus came about as an extension of its own "Wholesome Vending Program," initiated a year ago and inspired by changing consumer demands. An increasing number of vending operators were approaching General Mills in search of products that were not associated with negative health connotations.
General Mills responded with the "Wholesome Vending Program," which eliminates guesswork for operators endeavoring to determine which items are "healthy," and categorizes the company's vendible wholesome snack offerings by their health-related attributes, while providing detailed, easily identifiable nutritional information.
General Mills' Hillman cited a June 2004 study by Datassentials Healthy Profits indicating that a lack of options perceived as healthier is the number one reason that consumers eat less from vending machines, and that 44% of consumers view snacking as a healthy way to curb appetite. The study also showed that 28% of foodservice operators are "very/extremely likely" to begin offering "healthy" snack items in the next year.
"We noticed the trend that consumers were increasingly looking to eat better and live healthier, and vending is the most convenient way to attain a snack; it's at consumers' fingertips at work, at the gym, at a hospital," Hillman told VT. "So our objective was to help vending operators provide more variety for healthy diets in their machines, to help consumers eat better, live better and feel better."
General Mills offers vending operators a Wholesome Snack Choices guide that explains the easily-recognized symbols denoting items that are excellent or good sources of calcium, whole grains, or vitamin C, those that are cholesterol-free, and those that meet California's stringent SB 19 criteria as well as Texas school nutrition standards. The guide also offers a quick reference to select nutritional information on all of General Mills wholesome products.
General Mills' wholesome products include "Chex Mix," "Pop Secret Light" popcorn, "Nature Valley" granola bars in a variety of flavors, "Sunkist Fruit and Grain Bars," "Team Cheerios' and "Trix" whole grain cereal bars, "Cocoa Puffs" and "Honey Nut Cheerios" Milk 'n Cereal Bars, "Fruit Shapes" fruit snacks, "Big G Cereals," and "Yoplait" and "Colombo" yogurts.