Office snacks encourage healthy eating

By Doug DeLoach – Contributing Writer

A breakroom stocked with healthy snacks (often free for employees) is a popular perk at many businesses. Sometimes, the in-between-meal edibles are part of a company wellness program, sometimes simply part of corporate culture. Multiple studies have demonstrated that actions such as this, that focus on employee health and wellness, offer companies a solid return on investment, including high employee satisfaction.

According to a survey last year of members of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), nearly one-third of companies increased their overall benefits offerings in the last year. The most popular benefits added were health (22 percent) and wellness (24 percent), and the top reason for adding benefits was to remain competitive. In 2014, 20 percent of companies surveyed offered company-paid snacks and beverages, which rose to 22 percent in 2017. Sixty-one percent of companies last year offered snacks and beverages for which employees paid.

Decisely Insurance Services in Atlanta offers its 90 employees free perishable snacks – such as fruits and vegetables – purchased by CEO Kevin Dunn or his wife. The company also subscribes to a snack service, which twice a month ships shelf-stable healthy snacks such as nuts, jerky and dried fruits to the company’s offices in Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Sacramento, Calif. The snacks are part of the company’s overall employee wellness program, which encourages healthy eating and exercise. With fitness tracking devices and smart phones, employees monitor steps taken per day or steps within a certain period of time, for which they can earn up to $3 per day applied to their healthcare, said Dunn.

The office snacks contribute to a healthy office environment for Decisely, an insurance broker for other small businesses that has been named a Healthiest Employer by Atlanta Business Chronicle.

“We see how this practice actually translates into better economics for the company,” Dunn said, adding that those better economics are measured both in quantitative ways — by tracking the reduction in sick days, for example — and by observation.

“Eating healthy snacks may not be the sole reason why we have so few sick days, but we think it’s highly correlated,” Dunn said. “We also notice that people seem more present and more emotionally engaged, which allows them to accomplish what they need to do in the office.”

In 2013, executives at BIS Benefits, issued a company-wide challenge to its workforce to exercise, eat healthy and stay hydrated. Company leaders encouraged employees to stretch and walk around the building twice a day. They stocked the kitchen with fresh fruits, healthy snacks and bottled water, and ordered lunches from a local deli during meetings.

“We wanted to practice what we preach,” said Marla Mohr, wellness specialist/account manager at BIS.

Two years later, BIS was named Healthiest Employer in the Small Employers category by Atlanta Business Chronicle.

When BIAS Corporation moved into its new headquarters in Roswell, Ga., in 2017, management took advantage of owning the building to customize the office space with amenities related to employee health and wellness. Executives of the Oracle-centric IT services and consulting firm created a social lounge in the building with a pantry stocked with snacks such as granola bars, protein bars, dried fruit, trail mix, nuts, whole grain chips, coconut and banana chips. As a recent study by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that most food consumed at work is high in fat, sugar and salt, BIAS Corporation chose a different direction.

“We want to provide employees with an alternative in hopes they will reach for a healthy snack over junk food,” said John Ezzell, executive vice president and co-founder, adding that the company spends at least $300 per month on drinks and snacks, which averages about $3 per employee.

Like most companies, BIAS does not follow a specific nutritional guide to determine what to offer in the pantry, Ezzell said. However, its stocked kitchen is part of BIAS Fit, a company-sponsored wellness program that includes access to lunch-and-learn seminars that provide nutritional information, he added.

Wellness also has been an integral part of corporate culture at Kabbage, an Atlanta-based financial technology firm. Part of that strategy includes offering employees free snacks each day.

“From low-calorie and organic products to responsibly sourced snacks, animal-alternative options — and, yes, the occasional bag of Cheetos — we give our employees plenty of options,” said Amy Zimmerman, head of people operations at Kabbage.

In addition to snacks and drinks, the kitchen is stocked with fresh edibles from The Fruit Guys, a San Francisco-based company with a nationwide delivery network, which provides whole, unwashed fruit to offices, schools and homes.

“We don’t have a hard time keeping the fruit from the spoiling – everything gets eaten,” Zimmerman said.

Kabbage encourages employee feedback about its snack program, which Zimmerman said costs around $3,000 annually per employee.

“We want everyone to have something they can enjoy eating and feel good about in the process,” she added.

The bite on office snacks

“A significant number of working Americans obtain foods and beverages from work and the foods they obtain do not align with dietary guidance.”

  •  Nearly a quarter (22 percent) of working adults obtain food or beverages at work during the week.
  • It is more common for college graduates, women and non-Hispanic whites to obtain food at work.
  • Acquiring food for free at least once (17 percent) is more common than purchasing food at least once (8 percent).
  • Free food accounted for 71 percent of all calories acquired at work.
  • The leading food types obtained at work include those typically high in fat, added sugars or sodium such as pizza, soft drinks, cookies/brownies, cakes and pies, and candy.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study: Foods and Beverages Obtained at Worksites in the United States, 2018

Snack trends in the workplace

Employees at companies that offer in-house snacks are likely seeing some of these items in their office kitchens, breakrooms and pantries:

  • Plant-based foods such as seeds, protein bars from ancient grains and dairy alternatives such as almond and coconut milk
  • Alternative sweeteners such as date syrup, agave
  • “Upcycled edibles” including pressed juice, condiments made from imperfect produce
  • Chips made with sweet potato, kale, other vegetables

Source: Specialty Food Association

This content was originally published here.

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