Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H., is a contributor to NRN and president and founder of Healthy Dining and HealthyDiningFinder.com.
Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H., talked to Boston Market chief executive George Michel — who is warmly dubbed “The Big Chicken” — about the moves he is making for the future positioning of his company. Watch a video of Michel speaking about the chain’s initiatives here.
You are making such impressive strides related to nutrition, especially in reducing sodium. Tell me what motivated you to prioritize these efforts.
We embarked on this journey about 2 1/2 years ago. I attended a conference where Dr. James Hill was speaking about America’s need to lower sodium, and he inspired me. I realized that I have an obligation as CEO to our 11,000 employees because they eat at our restaurants almost every day. And as important, we want to offer our guests wholesome foods they can feel good about eating often and sharing with their families.
I find Dr. James Hill very inspiring, too. He is a world-renowned health expert and the executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado. I asked Dr. Hill about his thoughts on Boston Market’s sodium reduction, and he said: “This was an incredible move by George Michel and Boston Market, and they did it because they believe that restaurants have a responsibility to make it easier for their customers to eat healthier. I believe we will see more restaurants taking this approach.”
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How did you get started with your wellness efforts?
We are very engaged with our employees, and they are very engaged with our guests. As we discussed health and wellness with our employees, we quickly found it was important to them, and they were hearing it was important to our guests. We knew this was the right step forward for Boston Market. Our employees play a phenomenal role in our success. They are our ambassadors. They are our key to keep our guests coming back for more.
Tell us how you have been able to reduce sodium in some of your menu items.
We are working to reduce sodium by 15 percent across the board by the end of this year. We started by reducing the sodium in our chicken by 20 percent and in our gravy by 50 percent. We tested these reductions in our restaurants without letting people know we had done them, and we found out that guests didn’t notice or they liked the reduced sodium products better. So we slowly started launching throughout our 456 locations with almost no negative feedback.
We have recently reduced the sodium in our mashed potatoes by 26 percent. That is our most popular side dish, and we have only received positive feedback since we implemented the change in all our locations. We also decreased sodium in our stuffing by nearly 20 percent, and sales of stuffing have increased. We are proud of this accomplishment. It has been worth the effort.
I know you have several other growing nutrition initiatives in place, too. We are thrilled to have Boston Market featured on HealthyDiningFinder.com and participating in the Kids LiveWell program. You also tout that Boston Market offers 100 meals under 550 calories. Tell us about that.
You can eat a meal under 550 calories at Boston Market every day for more than three months and not have the same combination twice – there literally are that many choices. In addition, our chicken and turkey are both lean proteins for people looking to eat that way. We want Boston Market to be the favorite place to go for delicious home-style food, whether you want to stick to a healthy eating plan or indulge a little. We are very committed to the HealthyDiningFinder.com and the Kids LiveWell programs, and support their efforts to provide healthy food options to people who are looking for them.
Do you see that more healthful choices are important for your future positioning?
Absolutely. There is tremendous opportunity to grow our brand. We are getting back to our roots and our unique niche with our rotisserie chicken and fresh vegetables. That’s healthy, and that’s what our employees and guests want. We are constantly improving all facets of our business, and that is paying off, as evidenced by our 13 consecutive quarters of positive same-store sales.