Inside This Issue - News
Jurgens reinforces Hy-Vee’s commitment
January 9th, 2012
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Last year Hy-Vee chairman and chief executive officer Ric Jurgens joined Iowa governor Terry Branstad, lieutenant governor Kim Reynolds, members of Iowa’s congressional delegation and other business and government leaders to announce the goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.
"We had this idea of bringing Iowans together, all of us, to create a healthier happier state," Jurgens recalls. "And we thought the best way to engage everyone was to set a goal — let’s become the healthiest state in America in five years. We found a kindred spirit in Iowa’s governor, who had been the president of a medical university in Des Moines and had an interest in improving the health of the state. He embraced the cause and has really led the charge."
Hy-Vee has established its own reputation as an industry leader in health and wellness in recent years. It has added in-store dietitians, implemented a nutritional scoring system called NuVal and established store-within-a-store Health Market departments in its outlets. The company also sponsors a triathlon and has worked with schools on programs to teach the fundamentals of diet and nutrition.
"Hy-Vee’s mission is making lives easier, healthier and happier," Jurgens says. "And being healthier and happier really go hand in hand — when someone is healthier it’s easier for them to be happier, and when they’re happier it’s easier for them to be healthier. We really think that part of our mission is to make people’s lives better, and as a major retailer in our trade area, we believe we can make a difference. So by golly we’re going to."
For his company’s ongoing and evolving efforts to help its customers live healthier lives, MMR has named Jurgens Retailer of the Year for 2011.
Jurgens is quick to emphasize that he does not deserve all the credit for Hy-Vee’s accomplishments. For one thing, the company’s efforts on the health and wellness front began during the tenure of his predecessor, Ron Pearson, who saw that rising health care costs were going to become a financial drag on the country and that the growing prevalence of obesity and such diseases as hypertension and diabetes were going to require people to take a more active role in their own health and wellness.
Over the past 12 years Hy-Vee has steadily expanded its offerings of programs aimed at helping its customers do just that.
"We began our journey with pharmacy and trying to build what we believe is the best patient care in the country," Jurgens says. "And then we added Health Markets, which feature natural and organic foods and have been one of the fastest growing departments in our stores for the last 10 years.
"Then we started adding dietitians in our stores; now every Hy-Vee store has a dietitian on staff at least one day a week. Some of our smaller stores will share a dietitian, but many stores have their own. And the dietitian can work with the pharmacist to help people with food interactions with the medications they’re taking, and they can also work with customers to try to create a diet to respond to some disease state they have or one that can help prevent them from getting a disease state."
Hy-Vee has since added more than 90 chefs in its stores who can work with dietitians and help teach consumers how to "make the food that they need taste like something they would want."
In addition, Hy-Vee (with Price Chopper in New York) was the first supermarket chain in America to implement the NuVal nutritional scoring system in its stores. The system uses a patented algorithm to rate food products on a simple scale of 1 to 100, where the foods with the highest numbers are the healthiest. The score is generated based on the presence or absence of more than 30 nutrients, including carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. High levels of vitamins or fiber in a product can raise its NuVal score, for example, while high levels of fat or sodium can lower it. The idea is to synthesize the information from each product’s nutritional label and turn it into a single number that consumers can compare in order to make healthier choices when perusing store shelves.
Hy-Vee’s efforts are meant to empower its customers and not to tell them what to buy or eat.
"We do not demonize food," Jurgens says. "We don’t tell people what they should or should not eat — our customers make those decisions for themselves. What we do is provide information that can help them make better decisions. And if they’re interested in making healthier food choices, they’re going to find that it’s pretty simple to make those choices at Hy-Vee."
The company has a similar interest in the health of its employees, who of course can take advantage of all the programs offered in Hy-Vee stores. But the company also has a healthy lifestyle insurance program that offers employees significant discounts on the share of their health insurance premiums that they pay if they undergo a series of biometric tests and fill out a health assessment. The tests are designed to give employees a snapshot of their health. In some cases they can also identify potential problems.
Metabolic syndrome, for example, is a health condition that can greatly increase someone’s risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and other serious conditions.
Hy-Vee employees who have metabolic syndrome are given the opportunity to participate in a program called Naturally Slim that helps them address the lifestyle habits that have helped lead them to have the condition.
"A huge percentage of the people who go through this 10-week program no longer have metabolic syndrome when they come out of it, which means we’re essentially taking them out of harm’s way," Jurgens says. "I don’t know what we could do for our employees that would be better than giving them the chance for a longer and healthier life. So we’re very proud of that."
Hy-Vee also gives employees incentives to participate in a program called Live Healthy America, which is known internally as Live Healthy Hy-Vee. The program puts people together in small groups, encouraging them to help each other eat better, exercise and lose weight.
Such initiatives reflect the critical role played by Hy-Vee’s employees, which is another reason Jurgens is unwilling to take too much solo credit for the company’s accomplishments.
"Hy-Vee has an 82-year history of pushing the decision making as close to the customer as we possibly can," he says. "That creates a great deal of autonomy at store level, and in fact our store directors run their stores almost as though they were independent store owners."
That approach dates back to when the company was founded on the wholesaler-retailer model back in the early 1930s. Hy-Vee is now owned by its employees (anyone who participates in the company’s 401K plan owns a piece of the company), and anyone working an average of more than 30 hours a week shares in the profits of his or her store.
"We believe the people who help make the profit should share it," Jurgens says. "And that also makes them invested in the success of their store."