So, on Wednesday I made a visit to the local Whole Foods in Tustin to pick up a few things. I love the experience that each Whole Foods delivers but this store is the most mind-blowing one I have ever stepped foot in.
I never thought I would say it but I must confess. I now have Whole Foods envy. How lucky are the people that get to shop here whenever they want.
Aside from the fact that it is a 68,000 square feet spectacle, I saw something that I had yet to see before — a special section where customers can sit down and consult one-on-one with a Healthy Eating Specialist. All for free.
Several weeks ago, I profiled Whole Foods’ new Health Starts Here initiative and have been in constant conversation with many different store managers trying to get the inside scoop — do employees like it or not (in particular, those who work in the meat department), how are they going to roll it out, what are the internal training programs, etc.
One piece of feedback that I kept hearing was that there would be in-store training for customers on the program to answer their every question.
As I found out first-hand today, this in-store training comes in the form of Healthy Eating Specialists.
I got the opportunity to speak with Gerrie Adams, a Healthy Eating Specialist in the Tustin store, to learn more about what she does and how the program is going so far.
Q: Hi Gerrie. First off, what is a Healthy Eating Specialist?
A: Hi Max. It is a person hired by Whole Foods to work with both customers and team members. Our goal is to help these people reach the next level of health in terms of their diet.
This means getting them to eat foods which are high in nutrients and also teaching them how to cook. It is really anything that involves food and being healthier.
Q: Are Healthy Eating Specialists trained as nutritionists?
A: We are not nutritionists but most of us do have some degree of training in the field. Yet, we are not here to act as a nutritionist nor do we do specific meal planning.
Healthy Eating Specialists are here to provide education about eating healthy. We support the Engine 2 Diet and Eat for Health plan, both of which are part of the company’s Health Starts Here campaign.
It is our job to explain the importance of eating whole, fresh, organic, local and nutrient-dense foods and to assist people in incorporating these foods into their diets. We’re here to help people eat and cook unprocessed foods. So many individuals are used to eating food in a box and heating things up in a microwave.
All of us have heard for so long that we have to eat animal protein. We all go straight to animal protein and worry little about what is on the side.
Health Starts Here is about changing the focus and reconfiguring the plate so that the plant-based products are in the center and the other items are on the side. It is a complete reversal of the current way of thinking.
Q: Do you actually teach people how to cook?
A: Yes. Two nights a week our taqueria turns into a demonstration area to show people how to cook. We sell non-stick pans, colanders and cooking tools to help people get back to into cooking.
John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, recently came out here and gave a presentation that had some startling data. He said that in the 1970s we were spending about 30% of our income on food. Now we are spending 8%.
We have come up with a whole new standard about what we think we should be spending on food. This is because the food industry has designed products that are over-processed, cheap and convenient.
Q: Your in-store marketing literature says that people should reduce or eliminate animal products. Is that the message you are conveying as well?
A: Yes. We are encouraging people to have plant-strong diets.
Q: Will there be a Healthy Eating Specialist in each store?
A: In each of the larger stores, yes. In the smaller stores, there will be Healthy Eating stations with books and information. Team members will be trained in the programs so they can provide assistance when needed.
Healthy Eating Specialists from the larger stores will also be making consistent visits to the smaller stores.
Q: What has been the feedback so far with this program?
A: So far, it has been excellent. Customers and team members are shocked that a supermarket would provide such a valuable service like this in the store. They all say it is so needed.
Not a week goes by when I don’t get thanked and told how much this information has changed people’s lives. They are losing weight and feeling better. Most importantly, they now have an understanding of how to go about being healthier.
This program is all about Whole Foods getting back to its roots. We want to be a place where people can buy their healthy foods, and we want to make sure they know what to do with them.
Thanks so much, Gerrie!
My take: I like the fact that there is such personal assistance to give people vital health information and that it is also free. I hope other supermarkets and health foods stores follow Whole Foods’ lead.