by Kathy Cash  

GE Healthcare Showcases Multifaceted Nutrition Strategies

Perhaps your company cafeteria has a smoothie bar… now imagine a stationary bike with an attached blender where you can make your own smoothies while pedaling. And occasionally the CEO or plant manager gets on that bike and makes custom smoothies for you. Pretty cool, huh? That’s exactly what you find in a growing number of GE Healthcare’s global cafeterias serving 55,000 employees.

Blender-bikes are only a glimpse at the creativity and innovation that go into GE’s world-class model for the nutrition pillar component of their program. Jason Morgan (Director, Global Health and Wellness) shared his philosophy. “I strive to build our programs on a solid foundation of fitness and nutrition. That means putting in place the necessary resources and policies to support our global network. When we decided to focus on nutrition, our first goal was requiring 75% of all company cafeteria food options to be healthy. Stateside we define ‘healthy’ according to American Dietetic Association and other expert guidelines. Overseas, we take into consideration country-specific guidelines based on how they prepare their native food. For instance, 75% healthy looks a bit different in Singapore than the US.”

Make Healthy Choices Easy

Jason’s primary goal is to make healthy nutrition decisions as easy as possible for employees. “We label everything using red, green, and yellow cues. Green is good, yellow means it’s OK in moderation, and red would be considered not as good to eat. We even include color-coded spoons in the salad bars so people know which dressings and ingredients are the healthier choices.”

In keeping with this philosophy:

  • Cafeterias put the healthiest options out front for everyone to see as they enter. The salad bar, wrap options, and grill are near the entrance, while less healthy options are deeper into the cafeteria. Jason plans on beta testing a green and yellow color-coded footstep concept that guides customers to the appropriate sections.

  • Menu boards hang above each station. Over the salad bar, the board describes how to measure each item. Over the wrap station and grill, the boards focus on fat, calorie, and sugar content of each entrée.

  • Company vending machines are stocked with the 75% healthy goal in mind as well. Water, tea, and 100% juices are emphasized; soda selections have been minimized.

  • GE company policy requires catered meetings be 100% healthy with absolutely no sweets or sodas. This is easy to accomplish at the many locations with their own cafeterias. Early in the program implementation, administrative staff learned about goals and visited the cafeteria, where chefs oriented them on using the Sodexo online ordering program, CaterTrax. Jason and his wellness champions continue to communicate and monitor what’s being ordered. At GE sites without cafeterias, wellness champions establish partnerships with vendors who agree to comply with the company’s nutrition guidelines.

Ongoing Monitoring and Evaluation

Jason describes the positive relationship with cafeteria vendors: “Our contracts vary from location to location, but primarily we use Sodexo because of the lower cost and willingness to customize products for us. Anytime we go out with an RFP to a new cafeteria or vending company we let them know up front about our guidelines and expectations. If they can’t comply, they get crossed off the list. We meet regularly with general managers and staff to reinforce our requirements. They comply with our directions and have been creative in varying menus to avoid boredom. In addition, our chefs offer periodic open houses featuring new menu items. When we sponsor Take Your Child to Work Day, kids visit our cafeteria and learn how to pack a healthy lunch plus what it does for their brain and muscles.”

Jason put in place an ongoing auditing process:

  • Cafeterias and vending machines — “With our global presence in 60 countries, obviously I can’t be everywhere. My network of 125 wellness champions maintains a good working relationship with cafeteria vendors. Twice a year, they evaluate the options and determine how many fall within GE guidelines. Vending machines are audited quarterly. This data is loaded into an Excel spreadsheet which we evaluate annually.”

Jason explains how CaterTrax eliminates any confusion: “Whether you are ordering food to be catered for a meeting or a quick takeout lunch for yourself, you simply go to the online link and select what you want. Only healthy options appear, so you can’t possibly mess up. At some locations, you can even order a meal to take home for the family. When you factor in the 33% discount, it’s often cheaper than picking up fast food and healthier too. The order goes directly to the caterer, and if it’s not complicated, they don’t even need a lot of notice. Since we subsidize healthy food choices, it’s in everyone’s best interest to use this service.”

  • Percentage of healthy options being purchased — “GE subsidizes 33% of the cost of healthy choice items. Even though the program has been in place for 6 years, we only started looking at utilization rates over the last 3 years. Over that time we’ve seen a 5-7% increase in the purchase of healthy options — with just a slight rise in cost. Knowing there is a direct correlation between overall health and time away from work, we consider that an acceptable expenditure. So we look at all these factors in evaluating program success.”

Customer satisfaction is a high priority for Jason. “We constantly review surveys. We also do an annual ‘voice of the customer’ survey. The nutrition pillar is a big part and ranks at about 94% — a 3% annual increase since implementation. We expect to see that continue to rise as we put more initiatives in place.”

Leveraging Technology and Nutrition

Jason’s goals for the nutrition program are to educate, promote, and provide resources.

“One reason we maintain such a positive relationship with vendors is integration of wearable devices. Employees who belong to Weight Watchers® or other online programs like LoseIt! or FitBit® use smartphones to scan the codes in our cafeteria. The nutrition data is then automatically uploaded into the platform. As a result, employees can earn points for the purchase of healthy options. Many fitness and nutrition apps integrate with our wellness platform, making it easier for employees to track and engage in wellness programs.”

GE partners with a number of vendors to offer online education and games that engage and motivate employees and their families to achieve nutrition and other health goals. Jason receives positive feedback on these technologies, especially Human Performance Institute. “They run our Corporate Athlete Program. In addition to emphasizing the importance of energy management and exercise, nutrition is a big component. Employees can watch videos online or through the mobile app, making it convenient no matter where they’re located.”

“Meal planning is available as well as instruction on how to shop for grocery items. Every time they access these resources, they gain more points, badges, and other tokens to earn incentives. Employees can network and share successes with their online support system, which gives them a virtual high five. The other great thing about this platform is allowing other vendor partners to integrate their services into it as well.”

Jason also advocates onsite produce stands from local sources that meet environmental, health, and safety guidelines. “Our cafeteria vendors partner with local farmers’ markets. Employees can go to our website and order fresh organic produce, delivered to the cafeteria for them to pick up and take home.” The farmers’ markets encourage employees to visit their locations and learn firsthand how to choose the best produce. A few GE locations sponsor their own gardens, where employees can rent a plot. Rooftop gardens are becoming popular, and Jason is encouraging more sites to set them up.

Supportive Environment Means Everything

Jason acknowledges that creating a strong nutrition pillar takes commitment in resources and funding. “Management needs to recognize that if you are going to promote healthy eating by discounting healthy choices, it’s going to cost the company. But we know if we shave off even 1 point from an employee’s BMI, we can save $202 annually. They will reap benefits in the long run with a healthier, more productive workforce. And employees need to understand that pizzas and hamburgers aren’t welcome in the workplace anymore. That goes a long way toward creating a culture of health.”

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