Supermarket Wellness Watch: Google talks health with food retailers


Health is at a premium today, and everyone is searching for how to get it. This includes consumers, employees and companies.  Health through food is very much on the radar of supermarkets, drug stores and other retailers.

So it wasn’t surprising this topic came up recently at a high-level event for supermarket executives, the 2017 Food Marketing Institute Midwinter Executive Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. Executives outlined new directions for food and health, and how consumers are searching for answers.

One presentation in particular provided a unique spin. The biggest search engine company, Google, outlined its own search for a workforce wellness solution. The answer it arrived at was food.

Google’s director of global food services, Michiel Bakker, came to this supermarket conference to discuss his company’s ongoing strategy and to help retailers engage with employees and consumers on the health topic. Google has made food a centerpiece of its wellness efforts. It now operates an expansive, branded food-at-work program for employees at the company’s worldwide locations, including London, New York City, Mountain View and Singapore. The company serves more than 100,000 employees in 56 countries each day, working with a global network of vendor partners, and no two of its cafes look quite the same.

“Food enables people to be at their best, it’s a productivity driver,” he said. “Googlers refresh and refuel with this food program. They get a good meal in one of our company cafes, and they have conversations that lead to inspirations for the next big ideas.”

The company has strong opinions about the kinds of food it will serve to its workforce. “We’re nudging them to eat more fruits and vegetables,” he said, conceding that hamburgers and fries don’t make the menus too often.

Regardless of where they work around the world, Google’s employees are strikingly similar in how they interact with food. They love to share food experiences digitally (anyone surprised about that?), and they fit nicely into the growing eating and food culture.

But not into a cooking culture.  Google employees, many of whom are part of the younger generations, don’t have much in the way of cooking skills.

That’s a key reason why Google runs teaching kitchens for instruction in the basics of cooking and food knowledge, an activity that turns out to be a good team building exercise.

Google rarely does anything halfway, so not surprisingly it has big goals for its food efforts.

“We believe in moving our user base toward a more balanced, plant-forward diet,” he said. “We want to enable individuals to make personal, informed food choices for sustainable lifestyles. We want to reduce food waste, conserve water and energy, shift diets, and promote food transparency.”

Google’s strategy shows how one of the world’s iconic brands is integrating wellness into its day-to-day operations, and how it’s willing to make huge investments to achieve its goals. 


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.


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