How Can We Help?
Podcast|February 09, 2021

How Kroger is Helping Americans Live Healthier Lives | Podcast EP13

In this episode:

Our own Wendy Liebmann and Colleen Lindholz, President of Kroger Health, discuss the power of retail to transform lives, and Kroger’s journey to help Americans be healthier -- during the pandemic and every day.

Wendy and Colleen discuss:

  • Kroger’s “Food as Medicine” strategy grounded in affordable, personalized solutions
  • How the shopper is the center of the strategy
  • Kroger’s multi-disciplinary approach, across aisles, categories, services, and digital
  • The impact of COVID19 – what will stick and not
  • A view to the future, and the critical metrics of success

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Podcast Transcript

Wendy  00:09

Hello, my name is Wendy Liebmann. I'm the CEO and Chief Shopper at WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop.

Colleen  00:18

As a health care provider, we actually aspire to fill less prescriptions per person. So by filling less prescriptions per person, we're increasing people's quality of life or decreasing the overall medical costs. And in the long run, it's a win for us all. So while we are a large grocer that has pharmacies, we'd rather write prescriptions for food rather than people bring us prescriptions for drugs. So we're out to change the way healthcare is delivered in the country.

Wendy  00:47

That might sound like heresy from a pharmacist, and she is, but it's not when it comes from the president of Kroger Health, who is my guest today. She and Kroger, yes, that Kroger, the large supermarket chain, are on a journey to help America be healthier. It's timely that I have Colleen Lindholz with me today, not only because she's clearly a disrupter. And of course, two disruptors in the room are quite dangerous together. But because as we enter year two of this global pandemic, who better to share insights about what's going on and how Kroger's dealing with it, but also to help us understand how a massive organization like hers is now focused not only on everyday groceries but taking care of people's health. Hello, Colleen, thank you for joining me.

Colleen  01:37

Hello, Wendy, thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here with you.

Wendy  01:40

Not only is Colleen so passionate about bringing affordable health care to Americans, Colleen is one of the most joyful people I know. So thank you for joining me again.

Colleen  01:55

Thank you, Wendy.

Wendy  01:55

So Colleen, you know, I want to start at the end, not the beginning. But I know you are so immersed in all the things that Kroger is doing to help people through this pandemic, particularly on all the work with vaccinations, can you just fill us in a bit on what's going on in your life and Kroger and what you're doing?

Colleen  02:15

Yeah, so it's been it's been a ride. I'll say that not easy by any means. Obviously, we're in the middle of this pandemic. But you know, we've really looked at it. It's just an opportunity, especially as healthcare professionals to step to the forefront and be a solution for our country. So ever since March, when the national emergency was announced, we went out and decided that we were going to do testing across the entire country to help at that very time. But then we said we're going to put together an overall COVID a strategy that's really three pronged -- and one has to do with testing, which we continue to do testing throughout the entire country. We started out with the drive-through testing, then we converted to more in-store testing, you know, different types of models, antibody testing, now antigen testing, and then of course, getting ready for the rollout of the vaccines. But we also put together supportive services. So during this entire time, we've been offering free tele-nutrition visits for the entire country, so our dietitians are spending a lot of time helping people, whether it's a disease that they're dealing with, and trying to figure out how to eat or a family that just hasn't been cooking, and all of a sudden they're in front of a frying pan and they say hey, what do I, how can I feed my family. And we've been working on supportive services, which I think is really important at this time. But for the rollout of the COVID vaccine, we've been involved with all the Phase One, we've been working closely with Operation Warp Speed, and now President Biden's group to be a part of the rollout of Phase One. We started out on December 22, we gave our first vaccine in the state of Alaska, Juneau, Alaska, we had at that time, we were only involved in two states in Phase One. But now as of this week, we've gotten to 20 states. So it's been an honor to be included, really simply because of the need. I just think that as you know, the government started to roll out to the long-term care facilities and residents and health care workers, that they knew that they needed to go faster. So we're actually servicing 20 states as of today

Wendy  04:06

It must have been very emotional. When you delivered the first vaccine in Juneau, was it?

Colleen  04:13

Oh, yeah, very emotional. I mean, you brought tears to our eyes that, you know, our health care provider is actually a pharmacist there that, you know, sent a little note in saying how honored she was to be doing this for the country and needed to be a part of our company. And we've also been able to help multiple different groups of people around the country. We were involved in NASA, we helped NASA down in Houston, Texas, and just to see that, that group of people come together and for us to be making a difference outside of our four walls. You know, we say that's what we want to do. We want to make a difference outside of our four walls and reach beyond. So it's changing day by day Wendy, but we're just honored to be a part of it.

Wendy  04:53

Yeah, and I do remember when we did the panel together at the Emerson Industry Day and the conversation and the work that you were doing with other retailers, which was so impressive and powerful, you know, between Rite Aid and Walmart and others through NACDS, I found that it was just, you know, to see the power of retail to actually impact people's lives in in this situation, not just to, to test them and vaccinate them, as you said, but also to think about their lives, how they have changed and what they need. That's that that was very impressive.

Colleen  05:28

Yeah, the power of retail is absolutely shown, highlighted, and very soon, very strong light upon retail. And I love that we've come together, especially as a pharmacy profession, and just really shown, you know, what the pharmacists can do in the country. I've said for quite some time that it would be our nation's pharmacist if we ever got in an emergency situation, that would bail us out. And that's simply because of the number of locations and the number of pharmacists that there are, and you can find one on just about every corner. So yeah, I'm proud to be working with the other retailers. This is most definitely not a competition thing. This is, hey, how can we come together and in this pandemic, as quickly as possible?

Wendy  06:05

Yeah. So thank you for that update. Just now stepping back a bit. I mean, now I'm going to tell the story of how I met you because it sort of wraps into all the conversation here about your passion. So I in the in the old days, when we used to get together at industry events, which we know we will do again soon, fingers crossed vaccines in arm, I was sitting on a bus going to a dinner one night in a seat at the NACDS conference in Florida. And it was the seat next to me. And this person plunked down and said, “May I sit here?” and I said, of course. And I introduced myself, I just said Hi, I'm Wendy Liebmann. And she said, I'm Colleen Lindholz. And before her bottom hit the seat, she began to tell me about this amazing experience where she had been in running all these health care clinics in Denver, I think if I remember correctly.  And she was just glowing with the work and effort and excitement about the power to touch people and help them improve their, their lives and livelihood through good health. And I just thought this person just loves what she does. She is so joyful. But even going back to that, I mean, you're a pharmacist by training, right?

Colleen  07:18

Yes, ma'am. I am been with her for 26 years. Yeah, I'm a pharmacist by trade.

Wendy  07:22

Yes, yeah. And that whole focus that that you at Kroger have had beyond being a pharmacist, to this notion of the grocery store, and food as medicine. Can you talk a bit about that, because I find that, you know, an amazing advantage that my grocery store thinks of me, as you know, there to be healthier.

Colleen  07:46

At Kroger Health, our vision is to help people live healthier lives. And while that's only five words, and it seems very simple, and we take it very seriously. So everything that we do, all the decisions that we make are pointing to helping people live healthier lives. And Wendy we put forth a mission statement also, which I think is very important on how we're going to live out that vision. And our mission statement says that we're going to simplify health care by creating solutions that combine health, wellness and nutrition, connecting with people on an emotional and a personal level. So it's so important to me on the mission statement on connecting health, wellness and nutrition. And that nutrition component is obviously an important part. And that's where our “Food as Medicine” strategy comes into play. And our “Food as Medicine” strategy actually goes back many, many, many years. I'm reading about our founder, Barney Kroger. And when he started the company, and really his focus on quality of food and quality of product is extremely important. So it goes back for years.  If you think about our focus on quality, and we really feel like as America's largest grocer, that is really our responsibility to deliver the best highest quality of food. And at the same time, you know, be very transparent, obviously, with what people are putting into their mouth. And I think it goes back to when I was filling prescriptions, in my early years of filling prescriptions in our stores, and how many patients would come with diseases they're diagnosed with, like diabetes, and you know, heart disease and things like that. And you know, that people trust pharmacists, by the way, we have a very, you know, a very close relationship with our patients. And I love that about the job, by the way, that's what fueled me is to have relationships with people. And many would look at me and say, well, Coleen, you're helping me figure out how to use this diabetes meter to check my blood sugar. But what about all this and they would point to the rest of the store, you know, how am I going to feed my family? You know, there's, I need more education. Can you help me with the food component? And it was way back then I thought we've got to be able to help people more holistically. And what an advantage to be right here inside of a grocery store where people visit more often than they would a traditional health care like a Walgreens...

Colleen  10:00

Or CVS once a month or every three months, I thought we’ve got to be able to do something. So it was back then that we started to say how can we bring the healthcare side to the food side, and really, very powerfully impact people's live? How can we make healthy easier for people in our country, and then how can we help people understand transparency in food and what they're putting in their grocery cart. So it was back then that we started to build this dream of Food as Medicine. Another important piece of what Kroger is doing, we introduced it in 2018. It's called Restock Kroger. And it's really all about driving four pillars, driving shareholder value and driving our business for years to come. And the four pillars, the first one is redefining the grocery experience. The second one is partnering for customer value, the third being developing talent. And then the fourth is living our purpose. And so our purpose at Kroger is to feed the human spirit. And I just love it because talks not just about, of course, putting food in our mouths and feeding America, but it's really feeding it and having a place for people to come or where someone knows their name. And where we are able to complete their lives or like help them with their lives, help make their lives easier and better. And so of those four pillars, the health and wellness strategy fits in very well in multiple different ways. And specifically in redefining the grocery experience, the work that our dietitians are doing and our nutrition techs are doing inside of our stores to improve that experience, like within the four walls and then well beyond. And also personalization, that's a really key piece of our strategy. We've been working years with our Kroger Plus card and you know, at 84:51 in our data, to really understand our customers and to be able to, you know, deliver a level of personalization, that that goes well beyond our four walls. And I think that's really important too, when it comes to health care, is being able to personalize the experience. So whether it be someone that has primary immune deficiency disorder, and they're looking to, you know, for foods and supplements and options, where they can stay healthier, or if it's, you know, a young family that's just looking to be able to feed their kids and, you know, avoid chronic illnesses in our country with like obesity and diabetes, which we know are very prominent.

Wendy  12:17

It also seems to me this asset that you have had for a long time, which has now become 84:51, which I can never remember. But I know it's longitude and latitude or I think coordinates. Yeah, I wish they said something.

Colleen:

Right, exactly.

Wendy:

But that to be able to use that data. And then the insights from that data to personalize, I think that's a very powerful tool, because it's not just you know, transactional data, right or segmentations. It's understanding your shoppers in qualitative and quantitative ways.

Colleen  12:49

Yeah, the data does really unlock value, and then it unlocks so many things on the healthcare side, and with our customers permission, which obviously we do get across the data, the healthcare data and the grocery data, that we've been able to really target the customers that desire for us to target them with better for you options, education, you know, things that they're aspiring to do, not necessarily what they did in the past, which is what our loyalty card does reward people for. If they came to Kroger and you know, they bought one item, they may get a coupon to buy it in the future at Kroger. But what's exciting is when we're able to reward people, and help them with what they aspire to do, so they aspire to be healthier. So let us help you be healthier. So that's the exciting stuff, Wendy. And then when we see true, truly move outcomes, and help people live a healthier life.

Wendy  13:35

Where are you today on that journey?

Colleen  13:37

So we have defined Food as Medicine at Kroger as a as an educated and dedicated and personalized approach. I think it's very important when you understand the personalized approach to helping people make a healthier food choice. And they’re enjoying food, so they can prevent disease before it starts. There are three main questions that we're trying to answer for our customers with our Food is Medicine strategy. And these are questions that people ask all the time. You know, the first one is they look at something on the shelf and they say, is this healthy? Just in general? Is this healthy? The second question, Is this healthy for me? People look at a product and say, Hey, because of the current condition I have, is this healthy for me? And then third, how can I stay healthy? So those are some of the like the main three questions that we're trying to answer for our customers. And there's many pillars actually five main pillars that have been built to support that. But we've also put out an overarching aspirational goal, and we call it “20 x 5 by 2025”. Have you heard of that yet? No. No. So we aspire to drive five powerful outcomes via a companywide commitment to Food is Medicine. And those five areas are in obesity. So improving by 20% obesity in our country, so that means 18 million

Colleen  15:00

less people with obesity, 20 million less people with diabetes, 8 million less with food insecurity. We want to decrease the overall cost of health care by 58 billion with our “20 x 5 by 2025” strategy, and also put 15,000 healthier SKUs or healthier products on our shelve. So we've as part of Food is Medicine, we said, hey, we've got to have a nutrition scoring system, have to have something easy for people is that of having to turn the box around right and read the label? How can they you know easily be able to tell if one product is more healthy than another. So we have worked on what we call an OptUp, which is our nutrition scoring system. It's really industry leading. And really internationally, we want it to be internationally recognized as being sort of the pillar of a nutrition scoring system that can be easily recognized across the entire country. It simplifies health care, it validates, by the way, food and food scores. So we've been working almost five years on this scoring system. But with OptUp, sort of as an anchor, we had to have an anchor for our Food as Medicine strategy, we're able to help people make healthier food choices and be able to answer those three questions that I just talked about. So that's the thing, you know, then some of the nutritional scoring systems in the past just really haven't been complete, or really be able to connect the dots overall. But with our OptUp scoring system, it simplifies it for the customer. And then at the same time, it offers better-for-you options. So if you are looking in the same commodity or category, like yogurt, for instance, and you've been buying the same yogurt for years, and you find out Hey, that yogurt doesn't score so very well, what in that same category, can I OptUp to you with my likes of tastes, and things like that, but have a better overall nutritional score to that item. So very innovative and very forward thinking but also more importantly, on the CPG side, on what they can do to bring those higher scoring, you know better-for-you items to the shelf, not only at Kroger, but throughout the entire food industry.

Wendy  17:05

You know, what I love about all of this is you know, I mean, it's not always easy to build a platform and a strategy and have the whole organization wrapped around it. That's hard enough, but to put metrics against it, and 2025 is just up the road now, as we all know, is so powerful, because it talks to the commitment you have as a as an organization. And also, the thing that struck me about what you were talking about was having a rating a scoring system. That is not just to differentiate Kroger but actually at all the you know, the Kroger platforms but also to share so you've created more of a universal for you. that's a that's a very “Opt uplifting” approach to the whole strategy.

Colleen  17:54

Yeah, we thought that it was very important. Rodney McMillan, who's the CEO of Kroger and very inspirational himself, he came out with, you know, a couple of his overall goals, and one was to change the way America eats. And he didn't say we want to change the way that people that shop at Kroger, he, he said, we want to change the way America eats. And so with our OptUp scoring system, and knowing that, you know, we're partnering with CPGs,, and obviously our partners across the whole industry, to say how can we bring innovation, healthier foods to the shelf that are affordable for all, and knowing that those items are going to sit on the shelves at all of our competitors, too. But that's what we really feel like, we won't know that we want to do. And so that's been, you know, part of the navigating through the journey all along. It's interesting with the OptUp scoring system at first, of course, we thought we would get some pushback. And we did. Because you know when you enter in something to a scoring system, and you're telling people why your item doesn't score near as good as your competitors. Obviously, they're a little upset about that. But it's been really refreshing and that we've had a tremendous amount of them reach out to us as they start to bring new products to the market and asked us to put their products into our scoring system to see what they score. They want to have a you know, a green, you know, it's a green, yellow, red type of scoring system. So that's exactly what we're trying to do. Right is push on, really push all of us forward in trying to bring better for you items and affordable at the same time. That's a big deal for us at Kroger that we can, you know, affordability of

Wendy  19:26

Yeah. The other thing that's interesting to me about that when you sort of put that CPG perspective on it is health, wellness and nutrition. And I'm assuming all your CPG customers or your CPG vendors understand that right that that is where you are headed or if they don't they better, right?

Colleen  19:50

Yes, I think many of them understand our partners. We call them our partners, not our vendors but our partners. Do you understand where we're headed, and that we're trying to help people live a healthier life, helping them make better food choices, understanding sort of where they are in their healthcare journey overall. And then also that it's not just about the food you put in your mouth, but it's about, you know, overall wellness, fitness, behavioral, spiritual health, that type of thing. So it's really the mind body soul that we're going for. And I think that's reflected very well in our wellness experience platform. And the various wellness festivals that we've been doing, which has been an enormous cry out from the CPGs. I mean, they have made our festivals into what they are today, just bringing all kinds of exciting opportunities for people of all ages. So if it's whether it's families, or it's even seniors that are looking for options, you know, to move more options to eat healthier, that's what makes it awesome is the relationships that we have with the CPGs. Because, you know, we really feel like it's that we can do a lot. And but we know we can't do it alone, and they actually make us better and stronger. So I'm excited about what we're going to do in 2021. And beyond with our partnerships.

Wendy  21:01

Yeah, that's very exciting. We're in the middle of every year, we do named after this podcast, or the other way around, what we call Future Shop, which is our predictions based on all our How America Shops insights, of where things are going in the next two to three years. And so we're just wrapping up the one that will go out in a week or so. And what struck me about it was all these trends towards wanting to be healthier and feel better. And this overall, which obviously, has been accelerated by the pandemic, but there's a significant amount of people, you know, one out of four people in our national surveys who say to us, I want to do all this, I know I should be doing it, but I can't afford to do it. And about a third, I think, a third to nearly four out of 10 Millennials, who say, I really am passionate about all of this, but I cannot afford to do it. So affordability becomes a huge issue and opportunity here, right?

Colleen  21:58

Absolutely. Yeah, from the CPGs team and our own brands, you know, we've been working very hard on our own brands, they're obviously a big deal at Kroger to make sure that they're affordable, and that we've got that goal of having that 15,000 healthier SKUs on our shelves, really across the total store. Not only of course, our own brands, but the CPG side too.

Wendy  22:17

Yeah. And I was thinking about families that have food challenged, you know, also that thing, which obviously has been so exacerbated by the pandemic, but even before, you know, we talk about being not to get into politics, you know, the wealthiest country, the richest country in the world, and yet so many people find it difficult to put any food on their family's table. So to put healthier food options becomes an even greater challenge, right?

Colleen  22:41

Yeah. And I think to the country is ready for this right now, we worked on this a while back, and we weren't exactly sure how many people would be ready for it. But I think what's happened with the pandemic, and just, you know, we want understanding, hey, if I stay healthier, I have a better chance of fighting things off like this COVID-19 virus, right and keeping my family healthy overall. So I just think it's the perfect time. Another piece of our food is medicine strategy is really focused around personalization. And I mentioned that before, but you know, really using our data and our insights. And by the way, with the customer's permission, because many customers have already given us permission to help them. You know, they may have issues with certain chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease, and they give us permission to help them on the grocery side. And that's, I think, where the true magic happens is when you don't just define, you know, sort of a broad range of diets or popular diets or across the spectrum. But like, what is really right for you, Wendy, and right at this time in your life. So you know, people are on a journey in their life, right? And we're at different points, a journey of healthcare, and it just depends on where you are. And that's what makes it I think, really special. Is that personalized approach.

Wendy  23:54

Yeah, I know, one of our team, who's in her early 20s, was struggling with his bad allergies. And they seem to have exacerbated over these last, you know, 12 months, probably because she's stuck in her apartment all the time. And she actually went on to your one of your nurses through the telehealth and had a wonderful experience in terms of how she should be thinking about her eating her nutrition, and what could she do, and she really found that not knowing I was going to do this to that. She really found that as a as a really valuable tool and she said she would just absolutely go back and get that advice and recommendation and build that kind of relationship with her. You know, nurse her Kroger nurse or Kroger nutrition and a dietitian, dietitian, right. Yeah.

Colleen  24:41

We believe in that multidisciplinary team approach, by the way, Wendy, that it's really about, you know, putting the patient or the customer right in the center, and then making sure that they're getting the help they need, you know, whether that be from our dieticians, from our nurse practitioners from our pharmacists, or just in general they're trying to be healthy overall, you know, using the power of personalization, and then also being able to reward people, I think it's really important, by the way, the whole gamification, and to be able to reward people for making healthier food choices.

Wendy  25:15

We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. But I just wanted to remind you that we have many resources on this topic available on our website, we've got our how America shops, research, our most recent around how the world is opening up at retail, as a result COVID, our latest report on the big business of well, and how wellness is changing. So just remember, lots of resources for you as you continue to do your business, all available at www.wslstrategicretail.com

Wendy  26:01

It is amazing when you think about this holistically. And we've done a lot of work over this over the years, you and I've talked about it or you know what we call the big business of well, and it's because when people, they come into it at different points in their life, right. Sometimes it's about, you know, sustainability, and sometimes it's about losing weight. And sometimes it's about I've got allergies, and sometimes it's bad or now I've had kids Well, you know, all of those things, and all the ways they come in and the ability to have a partner in helping you get the right advice, support care at the right moment, is a very powerful, it's a very powerful message.

Colleen  26:40

Yeah, I mean, you just said it, that the right care at the right time for the right situation. So some people are saying, hey, I want to run a marathon for the first time in my life. And I need to make sure that I have the proper nutrition right in the proper fitness program. And to get to my goal, while others are no get hit with things like cancer, you know, right away, and we're there to support them during that time of recovery, making sure that they get the right nutrition that they need for their body. And then of course, there's the kids, right, and that the nutrition that they need to get just in general. With OPT up, it's interesting, we had some interest in taking it to the schools and to cafeterias. And really helping kids understand early in life, I got the middle school age, how they can opt up to healthier food choices, and then reward them for doing that. So before the pandemic, we were getting ready to be in some pilots around that. And I'm sure after we come out of this, we can proceed. But I think it's about behavior change, too. And really understanding that if we can, if we can unlock sort of the key to behavior change, which by the way, no one's been able to do very successfully, at least in my opinion in the country, we really will have something special.

Wendy  27:49

Yeah. And I do think you're right, this this moment, has pushed a lot of this to the forefront. I mean, I'm amazed that that we, you know, we saw this, that's why we it sounds crass to suggest that this moment is both has accelerated so much. But in some ways, it's been an aberration, because so many things were in the process, people were thinking about these things, and they just either didn't know how to do it or how to afford to do it. And the urgency now of the pandemic has made people think about the different kinds of choices they're making. I also think a lot about mental health as part of this too, because we've had a lot of discussion right about locked away and kids schooling at home and things like that. And I know that's, that's part of the way you think about things as well. And that whole view.

Colleen  28:40

Yeah, most definitely the holistic view. And you know, you talked about the festival, the wellness festival that we had out in Denver, you know, where we had brought together and hundreds and hundreds of people to really have a wellness experience that really encompasses the mind, body and soul type thing. So it's not just eating, it's your whole life. And that's the wellness movement. And that's something that we're trying to get started a wellness movement across the entire country. So we'll be putting on another event for the wellness experience. We've been doing virtual events ongoing during the pandemic, that we have to put our next actual physical event on here in Cincinnati in June.

Wendy  29:18

Oh, that's great. So that's something to fingers crossed, toes crossed. Right? That's great. Yes. You know, that reminded me I remember being in Cincinnati, when you I don't remember if you redesigned or opened the store that had the wine bar in the middle of the store, which was very appealing. I thought and very healthy. You know, we need a moment right. But also in the beauty department you had done so much more in terms of healthier beauty, clean beauty, organic, natural. So can you talk about how this has gone sort of beyond food and health and traditional health into other parts of the of the whole Kroger experience?

Colleen  29:59

We are trying to make this a more holistic approach. And as we build our stores out, you know, we built our stores for not just the place to come in and get your food and your items and leave but really a destination. And so that's what some of the things that we tried to do with building out the, the bars that we have, obviously, you know, and you're right, it's about a balance, right, it's okay to have a drink every now and then that's for sure. But also, those are gathering places for people. So what's been awesome is we've had, we call it sips and tips. And so where we bring some of our patients in and you know, on Thursday afternoon, Thursday evenings, and we're not only help them with a healthier for you snack, an item that our Bistro cooks up, but then you know different wine choices and beer choices and things like that. But it's really about community, you know, and about having a place to come where people know your name, where you can gather, we gather with people like you and ask questions. And that's something that I think is really a big part of this wellness movement, and then encompassing the beauty department and things that we're doing to work with other areas within our company to bring again that more holistic approach and destination.

Wendy  31:06

Yeah. And beyond that telehealth, which obviously by itself is a is a big thing. How are you seeing technology inform your whole strategy around Food as Medicine?

Colleen  31:20

Well OptUp is part of the is part of the technology. You know, it's a standalone app right now, but it will be incorporated into banner and all banner Kroger.com and all our banners very soon, so that people can actually toggle and, and by their choice, see what the score of their basscard is. And then telehealth we've been using that not only as a platform for our nurse practitioners, but as a platform for our for our dieticians, you said that you said that tele nutrition program, which has been a really outstanding a big home run for lots of people and not just people that shop at Kroger by the way, people that shop at you know, various grocers throughout the country to be able to help people and educate them during that time. But we in the pharmacy side of our business, and the clinic side of our business, are building a platform that sits on top of our fulfillment system in our electronic medical record, that's going to communicate directly back with primary care physicians, hospitals, really importantly, right to the patient. So our country has had a very fragmented healthcare system, I think that you know that and your information is in a lot of different places. So what we're trying to do is we're trying to build the technology and the infrastructure, to be able to put the patient in the center and communicate, you know, the right intervention where the patient is at the right time, back to their physician, to help them you know, help with that overall patient care plan. We also are aspiring to use chopped up and the nutrition scoring system to embed a nutrition score back into an electronic medical record.  You know, the physicians, they have a hard time with understanding what people do like on a day-to-day week to week basis, their patients and, and they know that their nutrition is a big piece of the overall plan. So we're trying really hard to be the first to embed a nutrition score back into an electronic medical record. We're starting with diabetes, and you know, endocrinologist to help them make better choices when the patient's right in front of them.

Wendy  33:13

One of the things that always strikes me is that people feel this is such a hard road to get to, but if we make it easier for them, and we make it affordable, both in time and money, that that takes a lot of the stress out of being healthier, which sometimes is quite stressful.

Colleen  33:32

Yeah, very stressful. And to your point, simplifying things for them, right, making it easier for them. One of the parts of our Food as Medicine strategy too was to bring Home Chef and that's our obviously meal kit company that's part of Kroger into the fold. And we have and it's really great because we're going to be able to deploy better for you meal kits, and how the patients like want them either shows up at their home and they could just heat it up, right, it's ready to go. Or the whole if you like to cook type of thing, you can put the meal kit together. But we're working really closely with Home Chef to give customers another option. So if they can't get to the store, and they can order it and it will be delivered direct to their home. A great thing about that, too, is just the curated individual personalized meal plan thing that we're putting together. So you know, again, definitely an advantage for people with chronic disease that are really trying to get better and get their numbers under control. And a great option for the convenience piece in this simplifies.

Wendy  34:31

Yeah, and I think about particularly through this families, the stress of families if they're lucky enough to still have a job and they're working at home. But they're now juggling, you know, meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, right, and school and work and all of those things. If they're frontline workers by the time they get home, you know, they're exhausted. All of those kinds of things that the pandemic has exacerbated and the opportunity to again, take the stress out. Help them personally and in terms of what they need to be doing is, again, a very a very compelling road that, you know, a path that you're on. That's, that's extraordinary. So no wonder you've been so busy.

Colleen  35:14

Well, and you know, the ultimate goal to here is who pays for it?  Right. I mean, you think about our fragmented healthcare system, and that, you know, we spend more on health care anybody else does in the world. Yet we're the most unhealthiest country in the world. It's not, it's not a good balance, I mean, we need to do stuff differently. So we've been working very closely, which this is where it gets super exciting to me, with the Anthems of the world and United Health Cares of the world and the payers to say, hey, let's really go after prevention in a way, like it's never been done before. And let's, let's pay for food and healthier food earlier. So that you're avoiding, you know, complications, readmissions to hospitals, and keep the healthy, healthy, right. So it's just really exciting some of the programs that we have going on with them, and how the various plans are starting to pay for food as a benefit, which is extremely obviously simplifies it for the customer and the patient. And then on the back end, you know, I think I believe we're gonna see the outcomes for years to come.

Wendy  36:17

So Colleen, what do you think will stick post pandemic? And what do you think will disappear?

Colleen  36:26

That's a really good question. I think post pandemic, obviously, the use of technology, and even the ordering online ordering, getting groceries sent directly to your home, I think that is still going to happen. And more people will do that than they did prior to even our Kroger pickup program where you ordered groceries and you come to our parking lot, and we put them in the back of your car. That is obviously the adoption of that has gone up 1,000% or whatever. It's a whole lot since we started the program. But I think that people still are desiring to be around people. And I can't wait until we can get people back in our stores for programs like Sips & Tips that we had to delay because of the pandemic. But I think that people will want to come back, they'll want to go places where again, people know their name, where they can gather where they can feel good, that whole relationship thing, you know, that humanistic, like, direct, being you together talking like that kind of thing. I think some of that, I hope that that will come back. And you know, just in general, what I worry about too, is the many people that didn't get help during this time, Wendy, that would have been diagnosed with, you know, heart disease, or cancer or high blood pressure, that they didn't get the help they need it. So I really fear that there's gonna be an influx and I think there might be some risk of that.

Wendy  37:49

I agree with you that there will be some things will not, you know, some things will stick but that notion about being out and about and with people we care for, I think will be you know that that will we'll see a rush for that once we can get 300 million people vaccinated. So I you know, I really thank you for all of this. However, before I let you go, I always do a little thing at the end that I call Snap. Snap is because I snap my fingers, you could be quick. Okay, what if you learned as a shopper yourself, not as the Big Chief. But as a shopper yourself during the pandemic minutes, there's something that you say, Wow, I didn't know I could do that. I didn't know I did do it. I didn't know I missed that.

Colleen  38:34

I mean, I didn't order anything online prior to the pandemic, I'm just I love to go shop. I love the experience. So I think the convenience piece of ordering most of my Christmas gifts online, was it taught me that it really is convenient. And it saves me time. And I can have time to spend with my family to do other things.  Now, not that I wouldn't go back to my old ways, but I just enjoy going out enjoy doing that type of stuff.  I mean, as a customer that kind of taught me that it is pretty easy when you know what you want. But then, at the same time, that whole like idea of going in and impulse buying and like, you know, trying new items, I think that has kind of gone away. It's mostly like same old, same old. So as far as impulse buying, not really happening.

Wendy  39:26

Yeah, we sometimes forget we're shoppers right when we're madly saving the world like you are at the moment. Okay, last question. What's your favorite retail experience? Forget Kroger. As an either professional or as a person, family person, whatever.

Colleen  39:44

My favorite retail experience would have to be from when I was in Nashville, Tennessee. When I lived there and to go into Puckett’s, which is a restaurant in downtown Franklin, where there was always somebody playing music. It felt like family.  It wasn't stuffy.  People are so nice to each other, there's something about the South, I don't know, people are just nicer. I think I don't know what it is. But like, I think of that place and actually brings a tear to my eye because I, I love that feeling. I love that feeling of just, you know, everyone's like hanging out family, fun little music, music is lights me up, by the way, my mom sung in a gospel group when I was growing up, and I danced my whole life until I got out of college and just, you know, music and things like that just takes you in different places. So I think going into a retailer that, you know, their combination of the music and sort of the getting off in another world sometimes when you're trying to fight that the battle of sort of your own world is kind of a good place to be. So that's what comes to my mind.

Wendy  40:52

Well, it says a lot about, you know, the pleasure that retail can bring, whether it's a you know, restaurant retail, or a grocery store, or retail, or I must say during the pandemic, the grocery store, the that that we shop at, I mean, we do a lot of stuff online, but the grocery store we shop at it was they were the people we saw, they were the people that we stayed connected to, and you know the power and you and I've talked about the joy of retail, the power and joy of retail, is that ability to connect on an everyday level, which I think is what makes I understand your absolute joy from the moment you plunked yourself down in the seat on the bus next to me, I thought, wow, I get it. I love that. What retail can bring, you know, so you know,

Colleen  41:40We really believe in the preventative power of food, and that averting disease is just as important as treating it. And so, you know, we're, we're heading down that path, and it's gonna be a journey. And we can't do it alone. But we're really proud of, of what we stand for. And where we're going.

Wendy  41:58

I can't thank you enough for this and helping us understand how your approach to Food as Medicine and the breadth of it and also all the wonderful work you're doing around testing and vaccinating America. 20 states. Great work. Thank you for being with me. It's a pleasure. And I look forward to seeing you soon. And Oh, and by the way, April, right. You're about to be the incoming Chairperson of NACDS.

Colleen  42:24

Yeah, we have no thank you. So I mean, it's an honor to be here and talk with you. I appreciate the time with you appreciate everything that you're doing. You're an encouragement and inspiration to too many of us. And yeah, I thank you for reaching out to me.

Wendy  42:37

So here's the thing. My joyous conversation with Colleen Lindholz reveals the power of retail to touch and transform, whether in a pandemic or every day. And you know, what was clear in that discussion with Colleen is that if you understand that power, get beyond the narrow focus of you know, what product will I put on the shelf? Or is it about a store or digital -- the conversations we seem to have every day these days, then you have the opportunity to build bold, aggressive strategies.  You know, putting the customer first what are the shoppers needs, and putting it right at the center. You know, at Kroger, it's focus on Food as Medicine is actually much, much bigger than just that. It's thinking about the solutions that people need to be well, and the boldness of that initiative. What makes it so powerful is it's actually grounded in simplicity of focus. Three simple questions to ask what to shoppers are asked, what do they ask themselves? Is this healthy? Is it for me? How do I stay healthy? So delivering the right care at the right time for the right situation and using all the tools at hand to deliver that affordably is the essence of the power. And last but not least, as Colleen said, it's about creating metrics, measuring what the heck you're doing, identify where you are on that journey. And Kroger has been very clear about that 20x5 by 2025. That's putting it all on the table.

Wendy  44:04

So that's the thing. Kroger is doing much more than Food as Medicine and doing it joyfully and doing it holistically. And, in so doing, reinventing healthcare.  But actually, it's doing a lot more than that. It's showing us all the power of retail to transform people's lives. That's a wonderful road to be on. So thanks for joining me, see you in the future.

Wendy  44:31

Just to reminder, the content of this podcast is the product of WSL Strategic Retail.  You can't reproduce it or repurpose it without asking us, without written consent. Copyright WSL Marketing Inc., so don't forget that.

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