Hole in Whole Foods’ discount incentive

By Bethany Reinhart

Shed the pounds, gain the discount: that is the mentality behind one popular grocery chain’s new initiative to drive down employee health care costs.

Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods, announced on Jan. 20 a new, optional employee incentive program that rewards staff members who meet criteria related to significant health measures. The program, called the Team Member Healthy Discount Incentive, will give full- and part-time employees enrolled in the company’s health care plan up to an additional 10 percent discount, on top of the standard 20 percent if they meet certain criteria, including low body mass index.

The new employee incentive has enraged numerous advocacy groups, including The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, a group founded in 1969, whose mission is to help “build a society in which people of every size are accepted with dignity and equality in all aspects of life.”

Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, said the new incentive is discrimination and, like similar advocacy groups, is urging consumers to boycott Whole Foods Market.

For a company that puts a strong emphasis on encouraging a healthy lifestyle and core values—including supporting team-member happiness and excellence—this new approach seems out-of-touch, and a bit backward.  Although it does reward employees who appear to live a healthy lifestyle, as outlined by the guidelines in the incentive program, it does not do enough to encourage staff members who do not meet the criteria to improve their own health.

While I understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle and health-conscious choices, Whole Foods Market would serve its employees better by revamping this incentive. The people who are most in need of the healthy, natural and organic food that the grocery chain sells are those who are overweight or who suffer from other health problems, such as hypertension or high cholesterol. Denying them the additional discount percentage doesn’t act as a means of incentive, but rather one of punishment.

If Whole Foods Market wants to continue with the staggered discount program, they should allow employees who do not meet the outlined medical criteria to have deeper discounts on healthy food items that will promote weight loss and other health benefits. If overweight individuals choose to participate in the program, they should not be offered the additional discount on items such as ice cream or potato chips, but should be given the deeper discount on fruits, vegetable and other healthy food items.

I have shopped intermittently at Whole Foods Market for several years and was ecstatic when one was built just a few blocks from my home. Although I will not go so far as to boycott the store, I do think bringing the issue to light is important to encourage the grocery chain to rethink its strategy to one that truly exemplifies its core values.