CHICAGO — Retailers, restaurateurs and foodservice professionals from around the country convened April 1-2 at the Swissotel in Chicago for the 2019 Partnership of a Healthier America (PHA) Summit, an event in which experts from the private sector, government, academia and nonprofits share solutions for helping children lead healthier lives and speeding up healthy innovation.
PHA partners with private companies to increase access to healthier food options and active lifestyles. CSP was a media sponsor for this year’s summit, which took on a new focus on healthy foods in the convenience-store industry.
"It used to be that c-stores didn’t care about better-for-you-options, but that’s changed,” Nancy Roma, president and CEO of the PHA, said in an interview with CSP and other members of the media. “C-stores have somewhat of an edge: they’ve got brick-and-mortars, more points of location and more points of opportunity to effect big change.”
Here are six highlights from the 2019 PHA Summit …
1. New mission
The summit began with a realigned mission statement from James Gavin, chairman of the board of directors for PHA. He said PHA, which primarily aims to eliminate childhood obesity, will now also focus on a variety of chronic diseases and best practices to accelerate healthy living in underprivileged areas.
“The truth is, so many of these debilitating health problems are entirely preventable—we’re doing these to ourselves, and we don’t have to,” he said. “Chronic diseases, combined with sedentary living, are at the core of the problem.”
2. Trouble in Chicago
The average lifespan of individuals who live in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood is 16 years longer than those who live on the city’s west side, Larry Goodman, CEO of Rush University System for Health, said during the opening remarks. This is due to a lack of healthcare, economic vitality, education and accessible healthy food on Chicago’s west side. Rush aims to cut this survival gap in half by 2030, Goodman said.
“We’re not utilizing the resources we have today,” he said. “The goal is to dedicate $100 million of our supply chain to Chicago’s west side by 2021.”
3. Taco Bell's commitment
Restaurant operators were vocal about the need for improving healthy offerings. Take Taco Bell, which focuses on three pillars—nutrition, choice and transparency—to achieve this, Marissa Thiry, a nutrition specialist for the Irvine, Calif.-based chain, said during the session, "Building Restaurant Momentum: Eating Healthier While Eating Out."
Last year, Taco Bell removed partially hydrogenated oils, artificial oils and high fructose corn syrup from every menu item. Additionally, the chain reduced its sodium and sugar and began using cage-free eggs. Taco Bell now has 38 ingredients that are vegetarian-certified and 28 that are vegan-certified.
“Food for all lifestyles is Taco Bell’s big focus,” said Thiry. “We try to offer something for everyone.”
4. Call to action
Although restaurants offer healthy options, the industry is still far from where it needs to be, said Thiry. Providing education on better-for-you options is the key to breaking the consumer misconception that eating at restaurants is unhealthy, she said.
Molly McGrath, chef and culinary director for Roti Modern Mediterranean, Chicago, agreed. She said it’s crucial that restaurants “read from the same page of music” regarding healthy ingredients and diets so they can properly inform consumers of what is and isn’t healthy.
“It’s on restaurants to learn and stay on top of our education and talk to customers about how they can make better choices for themselves,” McGrath said.
5. Food banks can help
In Pennsylvania, 1 in 9 people—nearly a third of whom are children—struggle with hunger, Andy Dessel, health innovations manager for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank (CPFB), said during the session, "Innovating for Better Health for All."
The food issue in Pennsylvania goes beyond healthy vs. unhealthy, as 66% of consumers in Pennsylvania have to choose between paying for medicine and food entirely, Dessel said. This is where the CPFB and other food banks come in: They aim to “reach everyone who is hungry and make sure that food is nutritious,” he said.
The PHA has partnered with 23 food banks nationwide for the convenience-store industry alone, said Roma.
6. Partner of the year
NACS was named PHA Partner of the Year for its commitment to fighting obesity in the convenience-store channel.
Alexandria, Va.-based NACS began its partnership with the PHA in 2017 and has since taken on a variety of healthy-eating initiatives to benefit its consumers. These include providing a web-based nutrition calculator to help convenience stores identify healthy products and assist retailers in defining their better-for-you sets; offering Drink Up marketing materials customized for NACS members that encourage convenience-store customers to stay hydrated; engaging small-format stores at Corner Store Forums held at the PHA Summit and the NACS Show; and providing healthier catering options and wellness emphasis at NACS events.