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Healthy Food Environments Pricing Incentives

Implementation

The implementation steps described below are primarily for the pricing principle of the Healthy Food Environments intervention, along with supportive details regarding access and marketing. 

How It Works

Planning

  • Ensure that senior administration is on board from the beginning, is a key part of communication to employees, and stays informed throughout the process.  Securing executive-level support is key to successful implementation.    

  • Develop a wellness team with diverse representation from multiple departments.  These members will be responsible for implementation of the policy.  Representation will be varied at different worksites, but some roles/departments to consider include the executive team/senior administration, food service, dietitians, employee health/worksite wellness, and marketing/communications.

  • Conduct formative research with your target audience to determine preferences and barriers re: purchasing healthier food items and beverages.  This research can be achieved through employee focus groups in which all shifts and departments are represented.  Establish pre-determined questions with facilitator to ensure consistency in obtaining information.

  • Conduct an initial assessment of the food environment to establish the baseline, strengths, and areas for improvement.  NCPP has developed WorkHealthy America, an online tool that inventories policies, environments, benefits, pricing, marketing/labeling, and educational efforts to provide feedback to worksites about their current practices.   

  • Develop an action plan to guide the collective effort that is agreed upon by all parties; assign timelines and parties responsible for implementing.

  • Institutionalize changes to the food environment through inclusion in the policy manual, staff orientation, routine reviews of wellness goals, and direct communication from leadership via employee newsletters, intranet, etc. 

Preparing the Food Environment

Access

  • Use established nutrition criteria, for example USDA Dietary Guidelines or the guidelines developed by NC Prevention Partners, or develop your own set of science-based guidelines for healthy foods.  The guidelines should be applicable to all venues at the worksite, including cafeteria, vending, catering, and other opportunities where food and beverages are sold or provided.

  • Collaborate with contracted food services and food service vendors to develop procurement specifications consistent with nutrition criteria, i.e. identify and provide healthier alternatives to include as food items in the cafeteria, vending, and catering. 

  • Train food service personnel on appropriate portion sizes and healthier food preparation methods.

  • Create the same equitable access by applying the policy to all shifts, and, if the cafeteria is not open, provide healthy options in vending machines. 

Marketing

  • Post nutrition information at the point of selection.  It is preferable to label all foods, but you can start by labeling healthy items and regularly occurring items, and gradually add labels to other items.  Additionally, post an easy-to-read menu with nutrition information at the cafeteria entrance and on the employee intranet. 

  • Use an icon consistently to identify the healthier items.

  • Place the less healthy options in lower traffic areas of the cafeteria and position healthy meals in visible locations.

  • Use price comparison displays to illustrate that eating healthy is the healthier, more affordable option. 

Pricing

  • Determine the pricing points for food/beverage items so as not to reduce revenue.  There is no formula for determining the prices and approaches will vary at worksites.  One site offered smaller portions at a decreased rate and increased prices on sodas to discourage consumption as a starting point.  Other sites revised the full food and beverage menu to include healthier items at a reduced price and less healthier options at an increased rate.  Formative work with your stakeholders may help with determining how to approach pricing points, as well.     

  • Once pricing points are determined, develop a pricing plan to incentivize healthy options.  Lower the price of healthy options, increase the price of less healthy options, and/or provide “healthy value meals” that bundle healthy options for a reduced price.

Maintenance

  • Monitor sales of items to assess the changes in sales.

  • Conduct follow-up assessments through quarterly meetings with selected employees, online assessment, and/or paper surveys with staff to determine what they like/don’t like about the Healthy Food Environment and refine the program based on staff input.

  • Identify Wellness Team member to assess the food environment periodically (e.g. quarterly) to ensure the labeling, product placement, etc. is still active. 

Keys to Success

  • Make it a win-win situation for your food service vendors; offer to reimburse them for any initial revenue losses for a designated trial period until revenue evens out or profit is generated.

  • Communicate to staff so that food environment changes are linked to employee wellness benefits, ensuring that staff experience changes in a positive way.  Use the cafeteria, vending, and other venues to market employee wellness benefits and use traditional employee communication channels to market food environment changes. 

  • Look to school wellness and vending initiatives as a model for change.

  • Use the contract renewal period to negotiate changes focused on providing and promoting healthy foods.

  • For those worksites without a cafeteria, promote low-cost or free healthy items (such as a community fruit bowl) or adapt the pricing policy by adjusting vendor contracts to require that a minimum of 40-50% of vending items meet nutrition criteria and are priced to promote healthier eating.

Barriers to Implementation

  • Existing contracts with food service vendors and distributors can delay contract negotiations and changes.

  • Perceptions that staff prefer unhealthy foods creates concerns that healthy items will not sell well.

  • Lack of executive level support makes it difficult to implement comprehensive policy change.

  • Concern about the financial impact to the operational bottom line creates hesitancy to disrupt current sales strategies.