Food Lion has kicked off a “food pharmacy” pilot to address food insecurity and provide smarter food choices to customers with chronic health conditions.
Under the two-year program with Novant Health’s New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., Food Lion said it will distribute about 3,000 boxes of shelf-stable, nutritious food.
The effort aims to give participants access to wholesome food and encourages them to make healthy lifestyle choices to achieve sustained health. Qualified patients will be determined, in part, through evaluations by Novant Health dietitians and other professionals in the three-state integrated health care network.
“This partnership with Novant Health is an opportunity to help our neighbors eat healthier by using food as medicine,” Matt Yates, vice president of brand strategy at Salisbury, North Carolina-based Food Lion, said in a statement. “Through the food pharmacy program, we are providing our neighbors with nutritious food that helps them manage chronic illnesses and helps them thrive, setting them up for success.”
The program leverages the Guiding Stars food labeling system from Ahold Delhaize USA, Food Lion’s parent company. Designed to help shoppers quickly assess food products’ health benefits, as well as follow doctor-prescribed dietary guidelines, the three-star rating system assigns one star for good, two stars for better and three stars for the best nutritional value.
Food Lion said the food pharmacy box includes shelf-stable, presorted food items, such as milk, oatmeal, tuna, black beans, cans of no-sodium vegetables and pasta with sauce, plus information on the grocer’s nutritious products and the Guiding Stars system, used on products and shelf labels at all Food Lion stores.
At New Hanover Regional Medical Center, dietitians will examine patients at risk for malnutrition, and part of that evaluation includes screening for food insecurity, according to Food Lion. Patients facing food insecurity are eligible to receive a food pharmacy box upon discharge.
“We are so grateful to Food Lion for supporting our vision for a food pharmacy that will benefit patients in need and for their investment in this program that improves health outcomes for individuals in our hospitals and clinics, many that have a chronic disease and identify as food insecure,” stated Schorr Davis, executive director of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Foundation. “Partnerships like this help us further deliver on our mission to improve the health of our communities.”
Overall, Food Lion operates more than 1,100 supermarkets in 10 Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.
Other Ahold Delhaize USA grocery chains have introduced “food pharmacy” initiatives as well. In 2019, Landover, Maryland-based Giant Food launched Produce Rx, a program of local nonprofit DC Greens to boost access to healthy food. Through Produce Rx, people who receive benefits via the AmeriHealth Caritas DC managed Medicaid health plan can get a prescription for fruit and vegetables from a medical professional for a diet-related chronic illness and fill the script at a Giant in-store pharmacy.
And in January 2022, Stop & Shop announced plans to go chainwide with the Fresh Connect program, which offers food-insecure consumers prepaid debit cards “prescribed” by health care providers to buy fresh produce. Stop & Shop said that, with the expansion of Fresh Connect, it became the first major retailer to make the produce-as-a-prescription program available. In addition, Stop & Shop in February 2022 worked with the National Grocers Association Foundation Technical Assistance Center to create testimonial and informational videos to promote the food-as-medicine concept.
This past September, management consultancy Deloitte released a report on food’s health benefits titled, “Fresh Food as Medicine for the Heartburn of High Prices”. Of 2,054 U.S. adults surveyed, 84% consider health and wellness as a key factor when buying fresh food, and about 75% said they’re actively seeking more personalized nutrition. Also, 55% will pay extra for “the right foods” that improve their health and wellness.
Many consumers, too, seek specific benefits from food, such as weight management (cited by 43%), managing existing medical conditions (32%), disease prevention (39%), immunity building (35%), improving emotional/mental health (34%) and raising cognitive performance (21%).
The Kroger Co. also offers a “food as medicine” platform through its Kroger Health arm. Last April, the retailer unveiled a Kroger Health-funded study with the University of Cincinnati—Supermarket and Web-based Intervention targeting Nutrition (SuperWIN)—finding that promoting a heart-healthy diet via nutrition counseling from a registered dietitian improved diet quality and lowered cardiovascular risk.
This article originally appeared on FSD's sister publication, Winsight Grocery Business.