Hannaford walks tightrope in promoting health

Articles
March 27, 2009

Hannaford walks tightrope in promoting health

What comes disguised as a discount, but is really a dangerous step toward Big Brother oversight of our shopping carts and home kitchens? A program that seems benign when offered by a supermarket chain like Hannaford—in an effort to promote healthful food purchases—actually makes it possible for insurance companies to track what you buy in the food store and potentially assess your individual health prospects based on this data. The pilot program by the New England chain is a positive attempt to reward known shoppers who buy healthy foods at Hannaford with free gift cards for products that earn Guiding Stars ratings. The pilot will launch in Q2 and could include discounts on monthly insurance premiums, reported Supermarket News. To prove their healthful purchases, “customers would print out their shopping history via myHannaford and send it to their insurance company. Available via a link on the Hannaford.com website, myHannaford provides side-by-side comparisons of foods’ nutritional value, along with their Guiding Stars rating and price,” according to the SN account.

What comes disguised as a discount, but is really a dangerous step toward Big Brother oversight of our shopping carts and home kitchens?

A program that seems benign when offered by a supermarket chain like Hannaford—in an effort to promote healthful food purchases—actually makes it possible for insurance companies to track what you buy in the food store and potentially assess your individual health prospects based on this data.

The pilot program by the New England chain is a positive attempt to reward known shoppers who buy healthy foods at Hannaford with free gift cards for products that earn Guiding Stars ratings.  The pilot will launch in Q2 and could include discounts on monthly insurance premiums, reported Supermarket News.

To prove their healthful purchases, “customers would print out their shopping history via myHannaford and send it to their insurance company. Available via a link on the Hannaford.com website, myHannaford provides side-by-side comparisons of foods’ nutritional value, along with their Guiding Stars rating and price,” according to the SN account.

At least Hannaford isn’t sending the purchase histories to insurers. In our opinion at SupermarketGuru.com, however, the chain should do more to caution its valued shoppers of the possible risks of sharing such data.  Do people take the time to read and learn Hannaford’s privacy policy, or that of insurers or their affiliates, with whom the data might be shared?

Will they consider the possible backlash if they buy tobacco products and liquor for someone else’s consumption, but it’s on their receipt? Or loads of sweet treats for entertaining, or processed foods to make sandwiches for their son’s or daughter’s soccer squad? Even if they do eat these less-than-stellar foods, whose business is it in a land of free choice and supposed privacy? 

Are times so tight that people should go to any lengths to score cents-off on purchases, or a possible discount from an insurer, when receipts could be terribly misleading and come back to bite them? Should we be willing partners with parties that would police our food, cancel insurance coverage and raise premiums to suit their business objectives?

Maybe Steve Burd of Safeway helped inspire this program with health insurance premium reductions for employees who buy healthful foods, but this Hannaford program goes further in putting shoppers out on a limb and seems less rewarding. We feel the program means well but potentially places shoppers in a perilous position. We urge Hannaford to rethink the program, or possible retract it. If Hannaford wants to promote healthy eating to its loyal customers, and keep them safe as loyal customers, they have other avenues to pursue.