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


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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