NATURAL SNACKING: Roger Sylvia, left, reaches for a piece of fruit at United Natural Foods’ break room, part of the company’s approach to employee health and wellness.
By Michael Persson PBN Staff Writer
In its second-quarter report, Providence-based United Natural Foods Inc. included testimonials from two company associates. The topic of discussion? The company’s 3-year-old “Body and Mind Wellness” program.
United Natural driver J.P. Pedraza spoke about being labeled “chubby for life.” And yet, through the initiative, he lost 75 pounds between May and December 2011. “It’s for your own well-being,” he stated. “If you want to live for a long time, you have to take care of yourself. This is the only body you’re getting.”
Employee Joseph Petak, a freezer forklift driver, said he was grotesquely obese. “My job is no longer a physical challenge,” Petak said. “When I started this whole ordeal, I was 269 pounds. I weighed in at the wellness center yesterday at 198 and a half pounds.”
Their stories inspire other employees, noted Deirdre Mendenhall, national director of benefits, compensation and human resources. “The purpose of this [health program] is to create the culture of wellness that transforms into a collective mindset.”
Since 2008, new CEO Steven Spinner’s major concern has been health within the company. The resulting effort includes community-sponsored agriculture memberships, providing employees a source of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. This year the company’s “Apple A Day” program has been a source of free fresh fruit at work all day long.
But the stories Pedraza and Petak have shared have made a direct impact on people’s lives. “We have gone from having people feel scrutinized, maybe even singled out,” said Mendenhall, “to feeling a comfortable inclusiveness.” •