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Supermarket Wellness Watch: Tops Markets tackles the other side of health

BY David Orgel

At Tops Friendly Markets, wellness has more than one side.

The multi-state food retailer puts an emphasis on health strategies for customers, with a range of efforts from pharmacy to food.

But Tops, based in Williamsville, New York, also prioritizes something else: wellness for its more than 15,000 employees. They are spread across approximately 180 retail locations in New York, northern Pennsylvania, western Vermont, and north central Massachusetts.

Tops pursues a range of initiatives in its “WELL Wellness” program for employees and spouses — from walking to weight loss — that have produced increased participation and measurable results. The latter includes improved outcomes in cholesterol and blood pressure readings.

The employee and consumer sides of wellness connect with each other. Associate programs generate a buzz that shoppers hear about, often from store employees themselves.

“It creates a halo for the company that shoppers notice,” said Gail Marchese, Tops’ manager, Benefits and Wellness. “People are aware of it. It shows we care about our employees and the greater good.”

Tops has succeeded to such an extent that it’s been honored by national and regional award programs. This year it made the list of the 100 Healthiest Workplaces in America (for the third year in a row; Kroger was another supermarket winner). It’s also been cited by regional award programs in upstate New York and Rochester.

Here are some details on Tops’ initiatives:

  • Walking to Tops: This is a six-to-eight-week challenge for employees and spouses to become more active. Participants are split into teams with self-reporting based on pedometer readings.  Last year during the challenge, the teams’ combined activity was the equivalent of “walking around the earth three times,” Marchese said.
  • Weight Loss Challenge:  The Tops WELL Annual Weight Loss Challenge is a team activity, with the winners losing the highest percentage of weight. The level of weight loss increases every year. 

“The first couple of years people were gaining the weight back after the program,” she recalled. “So we’ve introduced ongoing messaging about the need to exercise and eat well, and this includes a nutrition program.”

  • J.P. Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge: Tops employee participation is subsidized, and associates participate heavily in races in the company’s key markets. This includes such New York state locations as Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.

At least one of Tops’ programs takes an even broader view of wellness. Tops sponsors a financial wellness program for employees to help them develop budgets and save for retirement. How does this connect with health? “It makes them less stressed,” said Marchese.

The wide variety of initiatives for associates helps to make Tops a more desirable employer, Marchese added.

“It attracts candidates and is an incentive for quality candidates,” she explained.

The growing participation of employees across Tops’ programs even includes those at the most senior levels. For example, there was an executive group participating in the walking challenge, which included Frank Curci, Tops chairman and CEO, and John Persons, president and COO.

How did they do? “They weren’t first, and they weren’t last,” said Marchese.

That’s probably another way of saying that for Tops, success isn’t about winning, but rather about the journey itself.


David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker who was the longtime chief editor and content leader of Supermarket News. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries. To read last month’s blog post, click here

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Walmart looks into retail’s future with Store No. 8 innovation gala

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Virtual reality was the star of Walmart’s Store No. 8 inaugural innovation gala — an event that exhibited how the technology will shape retail shopping.

Store No. 8, Walmart’s technology incubator focused on ideas that will transform the future of commerce, held its first innovation gala on Wednesday. Store No. 8 works with startups that specialize in areas that include robotics, virtual and augmented reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence. This event however, gave put the spotlight on the value of VR.

The gala, which took place at a private residence in Hollywood Hills, California, invited top brands, technology companies and venture capitalists to see how VR will impact how customers shop in the future. Each exhibit encompassed Store No 8, Thrive Global and Accenture’s vision for the future of VR.

The concepts came from five early-stage VR developers that Store No 8 chose from an open call it hosted over the summer. These winners received funding to develop a proof of concept for an immersive retail experience. Guided by executives from Store No. 8, and brands like Modcloth, Bonobos and Rebecca Minkoff, their ideas were brought to life at the gala.

“Innov8 is our opportunity to support and elevate the incredible pioneers of virtual reality who share our mission to explore nascent innovations that will emerge not in coming years but over the next decade,” said Katie Finnegan, principal of Store No 8. “During this process, our five Innov8ers have uncovered radical new technologies, approaches and applications across the virtual retail experience, that we know will play a major role in driving commerce forward at a time when technology influences all aspects of consumers’ lives.”

Among the winners highlighted at the event were a 3D image solution from 8i that enables customers to interact with a Bonobos Guide, select virtual shirts from a rack and understand fit on a hologram model. A 3D image solution from Fyusion created curated Modcloth products in a manner that gives shoppers more insight into merchandise before they make a purchase. A company called Obsess recreated a virtual Rebecca Minkoff store.

Innov8’s board of judges included Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, Marc Carrel-Billiard, senior managing director of Accenture Labs, Jason Welsh, managing director, Accenture Interactive, Kirsten Green, general partner of Forerunner Ventures, Tipatat Chennavasin, general partner of the Virtual Reality Fund, Jeremy Welt, President, Invisible Robot Corp., Store No 8’s Finnegan, and Marc Lore, president and CEO, Walmart U.S. eCommerce and founder, Jet.com.

The event was sponsored by key brands and organizations in the technology and retail industries, including HP, Silicon Valley Bank, and Microsoft.

To read more details about the highlighted VR innovations, click here.

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Seasoned Albertsons vet takes the helm at Safeway division

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON — Jim Perkins, Albertsons EVP retail operations and special projects and president of its Acme stores divsion, has assumed command of the Safeway Eastern division as well, according to a report in the Washington Business Journal earlier this week.

Former Safeway president Dan Valenzuela "left the company to pursue other opportunities," the Journal reported.

Perkins has spent the last 30 years as a pacesetting leader in the grocery industry. Jim’s passion for the grocery business began in 1982 at Albertson’s as a courtesy clerk, and he developed into a key leader for them in several areas of the country. He served as VP Operations for Albertsons, and director of operations for Albertsons LLC’s Southern Division.

Perkins left Albertsons and joined Giant Foods as a regional VP, but returned to Albertsons as the president of Acme Markets in 2012. He was named EVP operations, East Region in April 2015, and returned to lead Acme Markets in June 2017.

Perkins is expected to re-invigorate the Safeway store base, the Journal reported.

Perkins received his Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Science, Business Administration from the University of Phoenix.

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