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Consumers, especially those who work at or visit hospitals and healthcare facilities, are craving better-for-you and wholesome meals and snacks. They are increasingly finding them as many hospitals and healthcare facilities — looking to practice what they preach to patients and build a healthier workforce and community — have begun offering more satisfying snacks and grab-and-go options at retail cafeterias and in vending machines.
“We want to be a leader, set the tone, some standards,” says Veronica McLymont, director food and nutrition services at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “We want to make sure we care for the caregivers.”
Several years ago Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), in partnership with the New York City Department of Health, adopted standards for its snacks and grab-and-go items that outline healthy criteria, such as the amount of calories, fat, sugar, fiber and sodium.
“We removed all empty calories and high sodium items,” says McLymont. “We’re sending a strong message.”
Now, all snacks and grab-and-go items, such as housemade yogurt parfaits and fruit cups, mini muffins and pastries, baked chips, fruit and granola bars, offered in the MSK’s retail cafeteria and vending machines, must meet the new nutritional standards.
As snacking has become more prevalent and consumers continue to look for more healthful, convenient options, many other hospital foodservice providers have created more nutrition-centric criteria for their snacks and grab-and-go items as well.
“Snacks are becoming more of a mainstream choice customers want even over main meals,” says Lisa Roberson, senior director at Compass One Healthcare. “Our hospitals are asking us to make sure we provide healthy options.”
For the last several years Morrison Healthcare, a Compass One Healthcare company, has been offering its WellPower program to the more than 750 hospitals it serves nationwide. WellPower is a wellness and sustainability program “designed to inspire people to eat nourishing food that will help them sustain a healthier lifestyle”.
People look to snacks and grab-and-go items to fulfill a variety of needs — nutrition, energy, indulgence — so they can feel good about what they’re eating, say industry experts.
“Regardless whether patient, caregiver or visitor, nutrition doesn’t happen unless the food is eaten,” says David Grotto, Senior Nutrition Manager at Kellogg Company. “Taste, fun and convenience rule and the good news is that many of today’s better-for-you options check off all of those requirements for all day parts.”
“It’s up to us to set the tone for the hospital,” says Martha J. Rardin, director of nutrition and dietetics at Hendricks Regional Health in Danville, Ind. “Consumers still like choice. It’s incumbent on us to offer lots of choice.”
Among the healthful snack and grab-and-go choices offered at Hendricks' Copper Grill — the retail cafeteria serving staff and visitors of the 160-bed hospital — are bags of whole foods, such as pre-washed and de-stemmed grapes, pre-peeled orange sections, and freshly cut-up fruit cups, as well as packaged bars and savory snacks that meet the hospital’s healthy criteria. Fifty percent of the items in its vending machines are also healthful, such as individual-sized yogurts, cottage cheese and wrapped cheeses, veggies and dip, and hardboiled eggs.
With research showing that 80 percent of hospital retail customers prefer brands they know (Datassentials, IFMA (CPP 2015-2016) The Big One!), hospitals are stocking their retail outlets with customers’ favorite brands. “We try to use nationally recognized brands because we think customers associate these kinds of brands with really delivering health and wellness,” says Roberson.
At “recharge stations” placed just before the registers, Compass offers items such as branded energy bars, nut packs and bottled beverages.
Among the well-known choices Hendricks features are cereals, bars, yogurts and a variety of bottled beverages.
“This becomes a person’s home they’re here so many hours of the day,” says Rardin. “Sometimes the branding becomes a bit of a comfort. It makes it an easy choice for the customer.”
It’s not enough to just offer healthy items, placing them in strategic spots to motivate purchases is also key, say foodservice providers.
Compass One Healthcare moved indulgent items away from registers, where people tend to make impulse purchases, and replaced them with healthy choices and signage to tout functional health benefits. And in vending machines, all healthful items are now placed at eye-level, while a limited amount of indulgent items are at the very bottom.
At MSK, water and low-calorie beverages are placed at eye-level in vending machines.
“Placement is very important for us,” says McLymont.
In addition to strategic placement, Hendricks adds a small red apple icon to vending items that meet the hospital’s healthy choice criteria.
Hospital foodservice providers report seeing many benefits to offering healthful options, including healthier employees who take less time off time, as well as increased retail sales.
“We should be the examples, even if we saw sales drop,” says McLymont. “It was the right thing to do, [and] people have embraced it over time.”
Compass says strategies such as limited time offers and bundles are successfully driving demand — and sales — for its healthful options. For example, after Compass began placing bottled water at registers, bottled water sales increased 147 percent in 2015.
And it’s not only these providers experiencing increased sales. According to The NPD Group’s 2016 Foodservice Performance report, in hospitals afternoon snack sales/traffic has increased 18 percent in the last year.
“You put it out there and people will go for it,” says Roberson. “It drives people to healthy behavior.”