Giant/Martin’s John MacDonald discusses the cornerstone role health and wellness plays in the retailer's Better Neighbor promise.
Being in the food industry provides a built-in advantage for Ahold USA to make a real difference in the health and well-being of its customers and associates. As such, John MacDonald, Giant/Martin’s director of marketing and external communications, is ardent when discussing the company’s health-and-wellness prowess in general, and its in-store nutritionist program specifically, which he believes is not only “a noble goal, but something which I also think is very unique and special.”
A self-proclaimed “passionate advocate” of Ahold’s in-store nutritionist program, which took wing in 2005 at Giant’s then “test-bed” Camp Hill, Pa., store, MacDonald notes, “The program’s evolution from then to now is incredible — we’ve taken it from one to five, then decided to really invest in it to become community leaders, with 10 certified, licensed nutritionist professionals.” Current plans call for more than 20 more by 2015. “Any hospital facility would be happy to have them on their staff, and our customers are taking great advantage of their services and expertise,” MacDonald says, adding that this in turn translates to loyal customers.
As he works to foster and expand the in-store nutritionist program, which includes personalized plans, aisle-side consultations, store tours and classes, MacDonald observes: “One of those obvious things realized when it’s pointed out is that when you’re talking about health, wellness and nutrition, there’s really no better place to do that than in a grocery store — where hands-on education and interaction can take place, which is tremendous for our customers.”
From its Carlisle, Pa., headquarters, Giant/Martin’s operates nearly 200 grocery stores, which are “really building on health-and-wellness needs throughout the entire store. It’s an extremely important piece of our Better Neighbor promise,” affirms MacDonald, noting that the chain’s supermarkets provide a variety of resources to help shoppers make healthier choices for themselves and their families. “And it’s not just about helping those with special dietary needs,” he adds, but also store-wide wellness assistance that all customers can access.
Having recently enhanced Giant/Martin’s wellness program to emphasize the integration of the pharmacist and nutritionist, MacDonald says the new scheme allows the teams to “build personal, one-on-one relationships with customers and associates,” to help them discover new and creative ways to incorporate healthy foods into their diets. Giant/Martin’s independent, self-funded nutritionist program “focuses on the individual needs of customers, who increasingly want choices” about what to eat when striving to maintain a healthy lifestyle, he notes, with even snack foods and cookies included — when consumed in moderation, of course.
Passport to Nutrition
In addition, as part of its leadership to connect parents, caregivers and kids to important nutrition and wellness information, MacDonald notes that Giant/Martin’s is seeing tremendous success with its popular Kid Healthy Ideas magazine and companion Passport to Nutrition program. First introduced in 2010, Passport to Nutrition is an engaging, interactive program designed to provide kids with the necessary tools to learn about nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, both at home and school. Striving to make the topics compelling for kids, the free Passport kits include a robust set of materials covering such topics as food labels, portion control and hydration.
“The kit provides teachers with a turnkey food and nutrition program that allows them to easily craft a curriculum around healthy eating,” explains MacDonald. “All we ask is that they contact us to let us know what they need, and we send it right out.”
Giant/Martin’s also offers free Kid Healthy Ideas store tours that provide teachers, parents and troop leaders a fun and interactive way to help teach children how to make healthier choices and reinforce nutrition curricula taught in local schools. At last count, more than 17,000 youngsters have taken part in a total of 985 tours held at participating stores. “The ability to have personal nutritionists educate kids through schools in a classroom setting, or during a live store tour, helps children look at things completely differently in the supermarket,” a prospect MacDonald finds extremely rewarding as the father of three teenagers.
A new twist on Giant/Martin’s nutrition outreach, which began last year and has seen great success, is the advent of Twitter parties, which are fast-paced virtual gatherings using the social media platform. Typically lasting from one to two hours, these events provide “a fantastic way for people to interact and discuss a nutrition and wellness topic of choice on a very casual level” with expert hosts, MacDonald asserts.
The monthly parties spark connectivity with in-store shoppers through “live shout-outs” over the stores’ public address systems. “The response has been tremendous,” according to MacDonald, who notes the “instantaneous feedback from social media” generated by the events.
“The personalized, credible information is reaching tens of thousands of people, if not over 100,000,” he says. “Customers’ needs and interests are changing rapidly, and if they have a problem or need guidance, they take it [to social media,] which allows us to respond as quickly and appropriately as we can,” MacDonald observes. “So our ability to adapt to how people increasingly want to get their information is really gaining emphasis in building connections with our customers.”
Since the decision to eat healthfully often begins in the supermarket, MacDonald pledges, “We’re committed to doing all that we can to help people to make healthier choices, especially kids.”