Partnership for a Healthier America assists c-stores in modifying their food offering to create healthier options for customers.
By Erin Del Conte, Executive Editor
The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA): Building a Healthier Future Summit wrapped up April 2 in Chicago.
Convenience Store Decisions was a media sponsor for the PHA Summit, held at the Swissôtel Chicago April 1-2. The Summit drew c-store retailers, corporations, nonprofits and those creating solutions to combat childhood obesity together for workshops and networking events.
The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) was honored as PHA’s Partner of the Year during the Summit. Over the past six years, NACS has proactively communicated to c-store retailers the business case for offering healthier options at store level.
Henry Armour, president and CEO of NACS, accepted the award. “This award recognizes both the efforts of our industry to make the healthy choice the convenient choice and the power of PHA to provide the connections and resources to make a difference in communities,” said Armour. “Convenience stores serve 165 million Americans per day, and most customers are in and out of our stores with their food and beverage purchases in about three minutes. That is why it’s so important for retailers to provide cues that can help their customers make healthier choices.”
Aloha Petroleum is among PHA’s newly-announced sustaining partners at the bronze level. The PHA Sustaining Partner program recognizes an elite group of companies fully committed to building a healthier America and accelerating progress. Many have already made significant business changes or investments to provide healthier options for Americans and choose to sustain PHA’s work through active engagement, thought leadership and financial support.
C-Stores Partner with PHA
C-stores are meeting customer demand for healthier options by joining forces with Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA).
“Customers want healthier packaged products; they’re looking for more fruits and vegetables, healthier prepared items and healthier grab-and-go items. Bottled water is now the No. 1 beverage among U.S. consumers,” Amy Slechta, partnerships manager for PHA, told CSD. “So convenience stores are looking for ways to capitalize on those trends, and we work with them to help them identify what those healthier products are and how they can improve their assortment of offerings to their customers and also market and promote them so their customers know that they have them in the store to purchase.”
Nine c-store chains and six distributor companies are currently partnering with PHA, Slechta noted. Kwik Trip, Sheetz and Aloha Island Marts are just a few of the c-store brands looking to PHA to increase their success with healthy foods.
Among tools offered to c-stores, PHA — in partnership with the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) — developed an online calculator for measuring the healthfulness of packaged products with a nutrition label.
“You can follow the instructions on the calculator and plug in the nutrition criteria to find out whether or not it meets our PHA healthier food and beverage product criteria,” Slechta said.
PHA developed its guidelines using the dietary guidelines for Americans, expert feedback from physicians, and advice from academic and nutrition experts on what really constitutes a healthier food product.
PHA also looks at what a c-store partner is currently offering in terms of prepared foods, packaged foods and fresh grab-and-go items, and then helps them identify what products they can add onto existing offerings to increase the healthier items they offer. Recommended changes sometimes involve adding fruit cups or certain dairy options, trading white bread for whole grain bread in sandwiches or swapping out certain meats for lean meat. “Little tweaks like that make their menu offerings a little bit healthier,” she said.
While PHA’s framework is tailored to each c-store chain’s business model, it consists of three main things: increasing healthier food offerings; marketing and promotions to incentivize customers to purchase healthy offerings; and employee and community wellness.
When it comes to employee wellness, some chains offer a free piece of fruit to employees every time they’re working or free bottled water, or they might implement a new wellness policy or program.
C-store interested in partnering with PHA are encouraged to speak with the organization about what the commitment would look like for their specific chain by emailing Slechta: [email protected].
“We do a baseline on what c-stores are already doing as far as food and beverage, and marketing and promotion goes,” she said. “Then we go from there to see what a commitment or partnership would look like, and if it’s feasible for them to make a two to three year commitment.”
Sustainable & Healthy
“Today, we look ward the next phase of the healthy revolution: accelerating change,” said Nancy Roman, president and CEO of PHA. “In order to make progress we must address the food and physical activity culture in the U.S. and we can’t do that without the private sector. Our partnerships exemplify leaders and industry who believe in tacking social challenges while protecting the bottom line.”
Seventy-five percent of c-stores are located in food deserts, Roman said. Many are interested in increasing healthy food options. The next step is to get good enough better-for-you (BFY) options at supplier level — especially more shelf-stable BFY options — to add impact and scale. “Once a supplier changes, everyone they supply changes,” Roman said.
While there is much innovation in terms of health and nutrition for wealthier populations, this innovation is not available at access points for lower income people. PHA is working to fix this discrepancy through its partnerships with both convenience store chains as well as food banks.
PHA is also looking at the intersection of health and sustainability. Roman pointed out that to increase the health of all people as well as the sustainability of the planet by around 2025, it would mean doubling the intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, while halving sugar and eating less red meat in high-income countries and adding more protein from beans and legumes. These are scientific targets and new global nutrition standards that call attention to steps for better health through diet, but also can help the planet and in some cases global hunger.
Millennials, especially, but also Gen Z, see sustainability as a top tier issue. By connecting how BFY food choices can impact not just health but also sustainability, PHA hopes it can help these generations also focus on healthy eating.
“Can we bring health and sustainability together — in some cases they overlay perfectly,” Roman said. “For example, lentils/beans are a better protein source for diet, but also require less land, less water and don’t produce methane gas like meat.”
In a breakout session on “Building Restaurant Momentum: Eating Healthier While Eating Out” Sara Burnett, vice president, wellness and food policy, Panera Bread; Michael Kaufman, partner, Astor Group; Molly McGrath, chef and culinary director, Roti Modern Mediterranean; and Marissa Thiry, RD, nutrition specialist, North America, Taco Bell spoke about making eating away from home healthier.
Taco Bell’s Thiry pointed to a number of changes the quick-service restaurant has made behind the scenes on its “food for all journey” including removing additives where possible, cage-free eggs, sodium reduction, antibiotic-free chicken, and so on.
Burnett outlined a number of Panera’s steps including moving away from artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners and offering greater transparency as far as calorie and sugar amounts in menu items, among other commitments. The chain launched a plant-based menu in 2015. Burnett noted it’s important to stay ahead of the customer but not too far ahead when it comes to adding healthy fare. “Plant-based hasn’t moved as fast as I wanted it to. Customers say they want it, but then they order the bacon mac-and-cheese,” she said. Still, she said making the commitment to plant-based options means working extra hard to get to success. When adding healthier options, success isn’t instantaneous. The payoff, she noted can take three years. “You have to be in it for the long run,” she said.
The panelists also spoke about the challenges in offering healthier food and sustainable packaging.
During the closing session, Andrea Zopp, president & CEO of World Business Chicago, announced that next year’s PHA Summit will also be held in Chicago.