Shortly after finishing the “30 Days of Gas Station Food” experiment, I posted a photo of a convenience retailer’s checkout area on Instagram. I was impressed since they offered a variety of healthful snacks, fresh fruit, and even a few options tailored for children.
But I received a private message from a healthful living advocate who felt otherwise, and she pointed out that there were also products with high amounts of sugar, fat, and salt. Whereas I saw a retailer adding healthful choices and being part of the solution, she looked at the same photo and saw a company being part of the problem.
The role of an advocate can be a challenging one. Passion and determination can often lead to finger-pointing and demands at times when that may not be the ideal solution. In the case of this individual, she wanted me to be more confrontational. But I’d grown skeptical of that approach—especially after observing the Partnership for a Healthier America.
I first learned about PHA a few weeks into my experiment when a representative reached out to tell me about the work they do with convenience retailers. Since then, I’ve become a supporter and even worked with them on a few occasions. Last year, I had the honor of speaking at the 2017 Building a Healthier Future Summit in Washington, DC.
PHA was founded in 2010 in conjunction with, but independent from, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. Whereas Let’s Move! was a project based out of the First Lady’s office—and therefore temporary in nature—Mrs. Obama wanted PHA to outlive her her time in the White House. Today, she continues to serve as its honorary chair.
The idea behind PHA is simple. Instead of a confrontational approach, they broker meaningful commitments with both private and public organizations to improve the nation’s health and combat childhood obesity. Some of these companies may be thought of as “part of the problem”, but that’s part of PHA’s magic.
Bill Clinton mentioned this at the 2017 Summit when he discussed the power of diverse partnerships—people coming together from divergent backgrounds and focusing on a shared goal. Instead of attacking a soda company, for example, why not find a solution that makes sense for both sides?
It’s through this cooperative spirit that PHA works with many of today’s leading convenience retailers. They saw an opportunity and reached out to a few who were already expanding their healthful offerings—viewing them as ideal partners for two reasons. First, there are more convenience retailers than dollar and grocery stores combined; and second, the retail landscape had changed with consumers now demanding access to healthier food. Two early-adopters, Kwik Trip and Sheetz, joined in 2014.
Outcomes have been successful thus far. One year after the start of its partnership, Kwik Trip found that bulk produce sales had grown by 5.5%. Additionally, they now sell an average of 400 pounds of bananas per store, per day. To ensure fair oversight and monitoring, PHA agreements are evaluated by independent, third-party organizations.
As we consider options to improve outcomes in the state of Iowa, I think it’s worth keeping the PHA model in mind. Simply put: working together is how you get things done. And the best partnerships sometimes originate from unexpected sources. Who would have thought that last year’s summit, for example, would see the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) become the first retail trade association to partner with a healthy living organization founded by our former First Lady?
Does this mean the time is right to find ways to work with Iowa’s convenience retailers? Perhaps. Many have already taken steps to expand their healthful offerings. In my next post, I’ll explore this topic and share examples of what they’re doing.