Will Whole Foods reinvent retail health clinics?

Discussion
Feb 10, 2015

Whole Foods is exploring entering the health clinic space, but not surprisingly is taking two unique approaches in addressing the opportunity — getaway health retreats and medical clinics.

Both build off the success the chain has found with its Total Health Immersion Program, a weeklong retreat focused on nutrition and weight loss offered free to employees that includes medical assessments, nutritionist-led discussions and cooking classes. Since launching in fall 2009, more than 2,400 team members have participated in the program, according to Whole Food’s 2013 10K.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, co-CEO and co-founder John Mackey said he would like to offer the same program to customers as a "weekend getaway" and is negotiating to buy property in the chain’s hometown of Austin for the purpose. He added, "If it works here, there’s no reason we can’t do it in every major city in the U.S."

The second alternative is a medical clinic that works similar to Rosen Care, an employer health-care program run by Rosen Hotels & Resorts in Orlando. Across its seven properties, 38 health care practitioners serve nearly 5,300 Rosen employees with a focus on preventive care and nutrition. According to company founder Harris Rosen, the clinic has helped reduce per-employee health care costs to nearly half of the national average. Such clinics may be rolled out not just to Whole Foods’ employees, but customers as well, Mr. Mackey said.

Mr. Mackey has previously said that the country’s health care system is broken and entrepreneurs could help create better solutions.

A Whole Foods spokesman stressed to the Austin American-Statesman that both plans are preliminary but did indicate that the success of Total Health Immersion has inspired the chain to explore "a variety of experimental concepts that support healthy eating and wellness."

The chatter appeared to attract just as many watchers of the health care space as retail. A few speculated on how Whole Foods would offer such services without pharmacies. Wrote David Williams, a health-care consultant president of the Health Business Group, on his blog, "It sounds like the offering would be more like a diet, nutrition and lifestyle coaching center. That might have a certain appeal, but it’s pretty far removed from healthcare delivery."

Does Whole Food’s exploration of getaway health retreats and medical clinics hold much potential for success? Do you see a larger role around nutrition counseling for supermarkets in general?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

14 Comments on "Will Whole Foods reinvent retail health clinics?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Max Goldberg
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

The Whole Foods brand is built on the ideas of health and wellness, so health retreats and medical clinics, if run well, would seem to be a logical extension of the brand. I would expect the clinics to be pricey with appeal to upscale customers. While other grocers talk about health, no other retail brand owns this space like Whole Foods.

Kelly Tackett
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

There is huge demand for health and wellness way beyond the confines of a pharmacy, so while I agree a challenge clearly exists without co-locating a clinic and a pharmacy, I think Whole Foods has the opportunity to develop a new iteration of the in-store clinic that focuses more on holistic healing and services related to developing a lifestyle of health and wellness. Anything a supermarket can do to strengthen the relationship with shoppers, including nutrition counseling, meal planning, etc., is a big win.

Tom Redd
Guest
7 years 9 months ago
Well, what’s next for Whole Foods? I predict they open an all-natural fueling station. Get natural, healthy fuel for your car! Mackey and the gang have figured out that our healthcare system is broken? Did he just figure this out? My read is that this is a high-margin sell job and employees were used in the initial model of their idea to test it and take care of the teams of people that sell way over-priced product. Hey, Whole Foods is a great marketing concept and a way to get deep into a shopper’s wallet. This next move will be the same, but I would never trust my personal health or my family’s to a “natural” food grocery. Free-grazing chicken does nothing for one’s health but it is sold that way. Free-grazing, “natural” doctors or medical advisors are not the places I would ever go for heath services. Whole Foods shoppers will be all over this. They really trust Whole Foods and shop it for their egos (the brand) and for food that they think… Read more »
Joan Treistman
Guest
7 years 9 months ago
Hats off to Whole Foods and their dedication to employee health. There’s proof from so many companies that fostering healthier lifestyles for staff brings the company’s health care costs down. Importantly, Whole Foods offers their Total Health Immersion Program for free. It’s a win-win-win. Providing weekend getaways to an existing health retreat contains cost, even when the weekend is free for employees. Investing in developing company-owned health retreats is huge for all the obvious reasons of real estate, construction, architecture, staff, promotion, etc. And the issue of location is another challenge as it impacts the total cost for building and maintaining each stand-alone retreat. In addition, geography affects whether it’s easy or difficult to get to for employees and the general population. Will Whole Foods underwrite travel costs for their employees? Establishing medical clinics is a monumental undertaking with a whole lot of liability associated. I am less confident that Whole Foods will take that on alone. Partnering with existing groups such as Rosen will probably be the path of least resistance and greatest success.… Read more »
Gordon Arnold
Guest
7 years 9 months ago
Whole Foods is a grocery store designed to satiate the desire to improve the lifestyle of an upper middle-class affluent society that has been all but wiped out by the present-day economic depression. Efforts to survive the economy and our reverse recovery have given rise to many opportunistic marketing schemes like we see here today which can be viewed as grandiose in subject, content and relevance. This latest effort to join in on the create-a-clinic program which is now populating drug stores and retirement villages may be seen as a little too much “me too” for most with the ability and time to look into their design, credentials and plan. While the effort is focused on a great cause to improve the quality of life in society today the money invested might be better spent to expand the business’ need for better sales in the market we have. There is much need in retail for businesses that are targeting an affluent middle class, which may be now classified as an endangered species, to look at… Read more »
Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
7 years 9 months ago

Diet and exercise, healthy sleep, stress management, quality of life, attitude, these are all major topics on a website I am building for Stanford’s Cancer Survivorship efforts. It’s interesting to see how cancer (or any other life changing disease) is used by doctors to try to get folks to do what they should have been doing all along. But the transition is difficult, the patient needs to learn and adopt new behaviors, that’s why the doctors who wrote the materials I am working with focus on the teachable moment around the diagnosis and after treatment. That window, the “Oh My God” moment, provides enough motivation, in the face of all the other difficulties, to make the changes. The phrase “vertical learning curve” is used to describe all that happens. If Whole Foods can help with this and make a profit (to make it sustainable) and it spreads to others, it will be a blessing for many.

alexander keenan
Guest
alexander keenan
7 years 9 months ago

Whole Foods will be successful because so many health problems and solutions are behavior based. Removing someone from their current environment and putting them in an environment where they must adapt is an effective way to force behavioral change.

The question become maintaining change after leaving a health retreat, and that can be where medical clinics come in. The diet industry is worth billions. Whole Foods can likely gain a nice piece of this by using the retreat for behavioral change and using the clinics to maintain behavior.

Tom Redd
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Looks like the BrainTrust is falling for the Whole Foods marketing. Most healthy habits should NOT require a special class or food store. You can eat right and workout without paying special fees or shopping a specific store. It is just that Millennials and others live by branding.

The brand is not the trick—it is using your brain that matters. Brand addiction like Whole Foods lasts only until the shoppers wake up.

 

Lee Peterson
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

These are all great ideas for the Whole Foods brand. However, if more traditional grocers try it, not so much. Simply because to their core customer the idea of “preventative medicine” will ring true. I wish they’d hurry with this!

I also think David Williams’ comments are way off base. Rather than simply dishing out pharmaceuticals and chemical “cures,” wouldn’t it be better to focus on diet, nutrition and lifestyle? Is that even a question?

Anne Howe
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Tying together a health-enhancing experience with your daily food needs is a brilliant concept. If anyone can test and learn and get this idea moving, it might just be the fearless Mackey! Make no mistake, this is not a healthcare system, but the total health immersion experience has profound potential for positive emotional impact. Transference of positive emotional impact from an experience to a brand can have many positive business benefits.

Whole Foods gets it. When I first read about this in a Kantar Retail article a few weeks back I called a friend and said “I’d love to be a part of this scenario.”

Dimitris Tsioutsias
Guest
Dimitris Tsioutsias
7 years 9 months ago

Nothing wrong with Whole Foods extending their brand into this area. However, let’s be clear, this is a way for them to increase brand loyalty with a select group of consumers who aspire by all-things-Whole-Foods. Better nutrition and diet is not exclusive to Whole Foods. So within their micro-segmented consumer base, this will work and potentially drive more social affinity for their brand. For SCALE though, which is the whole premise about solving the U.S. healthcare problem, Whole Foods doesn’t have the mass and reach to take it to the nation. Other major grocery brands (like Kroger) do, and could make a difference if they teach consumers to eat better, and care about it.

RIchard Hernandez
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Changes in a better you, health wise, are lifestyle based. I think they are taking what they know well and extending it into educating more people to be better able to make better decisions about their health. It will be interesting to see where they go with this.

Christina Ellwood
Guest
Christina Ellwood
7 years 9 months ago

Education and support for a healthy lifestyle are promising areas for customer engagement by supermarkets. Whole Foods is certainly in a position to succeed in this area. Healthcare is a much bigger stretch especially if the store does not have a pharmacist.

Roger Saunders
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

An interesting idea. 2,400 employees, who have some common ground, are provided with FREE health retreat support. Will Whole Foods offer the FREE service to customers as well?

Going out on a limb, I’ll say that is not a likely game plan. Thus, my thoughts are that Whole Foods ought to take a tip from Peter Drucker … “Stick to the knitting.”

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

How would you rate nutritional counseling as an opportunity for supermarkets?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...