Timothy Culver of Niles, Ohio, filled his plate Wednesday at the salad bar inside Trail’s Family Restaurant. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

Archived Story

Businesses still have healthy workplaces

Published 10:02am Monday, March 14, 2011

It’s been about two years since Dan Buettner brought his idea of “live longer, better” to Albert Leans.

And on Oct. 6, 2009, more than 30 Albert Lea employers pledged to promote employee health through the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project.

So, where are these businesses at with the initiative now? The Tribune contacted several local businesses to find out.

Cathy Purdie of Trail’s Travel Center shows off menu changes at Trail’s Family Restaurant on Wednesday. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

In October 2009, Alliance Benefit Group reported 100 percent employee participation in the Vitality Project.

“We’re not at 100 percent now, but I’d say we’re still in the 90s,” said office manager Kellie Jordahl.

She said since the 2009 Vitality Project kicked off, Alliance Benefit Group management has created challenges among employees to promote exercising and better nutrition. She said they host a biometric screening each year.

They’ve also started weekly wellness committee meetings to continue to come up with fun ways for their employees to remain active. They are currently promoting the Fountain Five and Tiger Trot.

Arrow Printing was another business to sign the pledge in 2009. Co-owner Deane Christianson said the simple act of removing the candy dish at the front desk is something still causing a buzz.

“Our customers are still mad at us because we don’t have candy on the counter like we use to,” he said.

Laura Lunde, a manager at Manpower, another business that took the pledge in 2009, said she’s noticed that the people in her office choose to bring healthier snacks like fruits or bagels versus doughnuts or rolls.

“It’s not necessarily something we bring up. It’s just kind of a mind set we’re all familiar with,” she said. “We’re just more focused on being healthy.”

Erin Sauer, human resources assistant at Mrs. Gerry’s, said they are taking a step back for the moment.

“We’d been offering wellness programs of our own before Blue Zones came along,” she said.

For now, the only wellness program they’re offering is tips in a monthly newsletter. Sauer said they plan to see what comes out of a worksite wellness committee event next week.

The Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber’s worksite wellness committee in Albert Lea is hosting a worksite health executive roundtable on March 25. Community and business leaders are being invited to participate in the event, which will include a panel of experts sharing workplace initiatives and how employers can help employees become healthier, and fight rising health care costs.

Trail’s Travel Center, which has been instrumental in the Vitality Project from the start, has employees on the chamber’s worksite wellness committee.

Trail’s Family Restaurant began offering half-sized meals in 2009, in response to the Vitality Project. Previously, these meals had been listed in a separate section of the menu, titled “The Lighter Side.” According to Cathy Purdie, director of marketing at Trail’s, said the restaurant has seen a 63 percent increase in these smaller-portion meals since making the switch.

Trail’s also added healthier side choices to their entrees, such as fresh fruit and steamed broccoli, and added those choices first. Purdie said since doing that, the restaurant has seen a 31 percent drop in side orders of French fries.

“The whole process is an evolution of our community changing,” Purdie said. “A huge foundation was laid at the beginning, but it’s becoming a way of life for everyone.”

Although servers in the restaurant toted pedometers when the project kicked off two years ago, only a couple continue to wear them now. Purdie said that’s most likely because the project is not an organized effort at this point but more up to individuals.