Northgate González Market has come a long way since its humble beginnings. The family-owned and operated California-based grocery store chain, originally founded by immigrants from Jalisco in 1980, went from one 2,500-square-foot store to now 42 stores located throughout Southern California. Despite Northgate’s success, its owners have not forgotten their roots or culture. They seek to offer high-quality products and improve the quality of life for Latinos through their Viva la Salud! Program, which includes bilingual healthy food labels and an entire marketing program aimed at helping customers make wise food-purchasing decisions as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Awareness: Victor González, Senior VP of Marketing at González Northgate Markets, a chain of family-owned grocery stores in California, said his father always instilled in his family a sense of giving back.
After donating some land to nonprofit Latino Health Access (LHA) several years ago for a park and community center for Latinos in Santa Ana, Calif., the González family had become good friends with America Bracho, CEO of LHA.
“She walks the talk and believes in what she does,” González said.
Through the relationship they formed with Bracho, the family became concerned with high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity among Latinos.
“We saw a lot of obesity and chronic disease and we wanted to help out our customers and also our employees as much as we could,” González said.
Learn/Frame Issue: They considered creating a health and wellness program for their employees.
“We knew that we needed to educate our employees on chronic disease,” said Teresa Blanco, Health and Wellness Program Manager for Northgate González Markets. “That way they could become champions” for future health programs for customers.
For customers, they already had a wide variety of prominently displayed fresh fruits and vegetables.
They wanted to do more.
Blanco said management at Northgate began to see a trend in nutrition tags or healthy labeling at some of the nation’s largest retail stores, but not among independent grocery store chains like González Northgate Markets.
They set their sights on creating English and Spanish labels to help customer identify healthy items as part of what would become Viva la Salud, a healthy marketing and comprehensive wellness program.
Education/Mobilization: González says that everyone wanted to be a part of Viva la Salud.
To start the process, the grocer’s department of operations and procurement determined the steps for bringing new healthy food labels to all the stores. Meanwhile, the marketing department discussed different ideas, colors, fonts, and logos. All designs were done in house.
“We worked as a team to design the whole thing,” González said.
Gonzalez said the operations department collaborated with an existing partner to develop the first round of healthy labels.
“We started with the company who was doing the [price] labels for us,” González said. “Then we changed to another that specializes in this sort of thing [healthy labeling].”
Blanco added: “At first the [food] labels were white making them difficult to read at shelf level, so we changed them to lime green at no additional cost.”
To determine what counts as a Viva la Salud “healthy item,” Northgate Markets worked with a printing company that uses a merchandizing system to combine product data with the 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans. The company identifies which items fall into each healthy category (i.e., gluten free, high fiber, etc.) and Northgate’s nutrition team reviews the whole list of products to make sure the items are indeed nutritious.
Debate: According to Blanco, there were some items picked up by the tagging system that the company did not want to highlight as Viva la Salud products.
Northgate made sure diet sodas were not marked as sugar-free, Viva la Salud items; and that high-calorie chips were not labeled as gluten-free, though technically they qualified.
Activation/Frame Policy: Grocery management decided to design Viva la Salud labels in English and Spanish to meet the needs of shoppers.
With plans progressing for a healthy labeling system and construction on a new company headquarters and distribution center set to begin in 2009, Northgate González saw an opportunity to do even more.
Education on nutritional concepts and cooking healthy meals must be a component of the labeling program.
“We said if we are going to bring in healthy grocery items then we have to have education for our customers,” González said.
Change: In 2009, the grocer launched its Viva la Salud wellness program, including healthy labels in nine categories.
In 2013-2014, the grocer revamped the categories and labels. Northgate stores now feature twelve distinct categories of healthy labels:
1) Buena Fuente de Fibra (Good Source of Fiber): Items with at least 10% of the daily value for fiber or > 2.5g per serving.
2) Sin Gluten (Gluten free): Items that have been certified as gluten free by an accredited agency.
3) Sano Para el Corazon (Heart Healthy): Products aligned with the American Heart Association’s nutrition guidelines (low saturated fat; low cholesterol).
4) Sin Lactosa (Lactose Free): Negligible amounts of lactose.
5) Bajo en Grasa Saturada (Low Sat Fat): Each 100g of product contains < 1g of saturated fat.
6) Bajo en Sodio (Low Sodium): Each item or 100g provides
7) Sin Azúcar Añadido (No sugar added): No added refined sugars.
8) Omega 3: Seafood items that provide Omega 3 value.
9) Organico (Organic): Items that are certified as organic.
10) Azúcar Moderada (Smart Sugar): Items in high sugar categories that provide 9g or less total sugar per serving.
11) Grano Entero (Whole Grain): Whole grain is identified as the first ingredient. Items high in sodium, sugar, or saturated fat are omitted.
12) 100% Jugo (100% Juice): Contains no added refined sugars.
“For the second phase many more products were included as Viva la Salud items…the idea was to connect with the community on the issue of chronic disease,” González said.
Blanco added: “In southern California, no one else has bilingual nutrition tags like we do.”
Implementation: González Northgate held a weeklong event with free health screenings and cooking demos at each of the store location in 2009.
Registered dieticians provided customers with information on healthy eating and the company organized a “family day of health,” to encourage families to get healthy together.
During the initial launch period, stores offered discounts on 100 healthy products.
Since that 2009 launch, the grocer has continued to expand their health and wellness initiatives.
Now, Viva la Salud signage can be seen throughout the whole store in almost every department.
According to a 2013 Supermarket news blog, unlike at other stores, Northgate includes healthy labels on items like meat and produce.
“Our organic chicken and lean meats have done really well,” Blanco said.
In November 2012, Northgate Markets hired Claudia Rios, as their own registered dietician. Rios works with Blanco to help maintain the healthy labeling program. She also works to identify healthy food offerings, lead healthy food tours, and maintain the company’s nutrition blog.
“We are telling them about portion control and bringing out non-profit organizations to educate customers about diabetes,” Blanco said. “The nutrition tags help employees identify healthy sections during store tours.”
Two chefs were also hired by Northgate Market to develop healthy dishes and menu items for in-store delis. They have since created 50 new dishes and 25 grab n’ go items.
“The basis of these wraps, sandwiches and salads are traditional,” Blanco said. “We even have our own dressings like chipotle, and lemon-lime flavors.”
For dessert, the chefs have developed a quinoa parfait that tastes just like arroz con leche (rice pudding).
The store is also broadening its horizons by blending traditional ethnic dishes.
“We’re doing an Asian fusion sopa de fideo.” Blanco said. “So these dishes are really healthy and delicious.”
Blanco says the stores are also promoting Viva la Salud combos as something new.
“In January, we launched a two-week program at all our stores,” she said. “It was very successful so we did a second roll out in late February.”
Equity/ Sustainability: Since launching Viva la Salud, Northgate has taken on a new role in the community.
“Our goal is to become a portal for health,” Blanco said.
Not only can the community come to Northgate Markets to shop for healthy foods but also to get immunizations, mammograms, diabetes screenings, and access to other health related services for free.
Northgate has also partnered with local non-profits to provide high school students with an opportunity to create their own healthy dishes and compete in the nationwide Cooking Up Change initiative.
Northgate’s dedication to improving the health of Latinos and bringing access to fresh foods has even earned national recognition from First Lady Michelle Obama.
In 2012, Northgate Markets became the first chain of grocery stores to participate in the California Fresh Works loan program, an initiative that helps bring grocery stores to areas designated as “food deserts.”
With so many positive things happening at Northgate González Markets through the Viva la Salud program, the company is sure to continue its efforts in marketing healthier foods to Latinos.
Blanco says that Viva la Salud adds value to the business.
“It’s something that we as a company believe in,” she said.
“We opened a new store last week and we are including Viva la Salud as part of the décor in the store,” he said. “So it’s a trend that we have and it will continue going on because we see the need in the community.”
Update 1/21/15: Northgate González Market continues to be a leader in bringing healthy changes to the Latino community. In January 2015, Northgate Markets was selected as a 2014 Community Outreach Award Winner by the Food Marketing Institute for their Viva la Salud Neighborhood Health Improvement program. Learn more about the healthier food labeling component of the Viva la Salud program by clicking here.
Northgate Market Launches Health and Wellness Program
Northgate Revamps ‘Viva La Salud’ Wellness Program
Viva La Salud Store Tours
NBC News 4 report: First Lady Michelle Obama Visits Inglewood Market
Northgate González Market at Telemundo 4
Michelle Obama at Northgate González Markets
La Opiníon News: Acceso a supermercados mejora la salud: Michelle Obama
Update! Health Food Trend Increasing In South Los Angeles (see how Northgate is bringing access to healthy foods to underserved communities in South LA).
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
Salud America! The RWJF Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program aims to educate researchers, decision-makers, community leaders, and the public in contributing toward healthier Latino communities and seeking environmental and policy solutions to the epidemic of Latino childhood obesity. The network is directed by the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
For more information, visit http://www.salud-america.org.