An initiative sponsored by the Association pour la santé publique du Québec

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Obstacles and Strategies

As with all change, improving food options in municipal establishments requires a management and adaptation process. The Weight Coalition has identified a few potential obstacles to this change and proposes strategies for overcoming them.

Potential obstacles

Profitability

Food could cost more given the use of fresh, perishable produce. More food could go to waste as well, thereby squeezing profit margins even further. This could constitute a challenge in particular for hockey arenas open only part-time.

  • In the Montérégie region, expectations of lower profits and greater food wastage were found to be barriers to improving food options for the majority (65.8%) of arena managers [1].

 

[1] Jeanson, C., Lefebvre, M., Lemire, A., Mailhot, L. & St-Jean, M. (2011). Je patine et je poutine! Repéré le 31 octobre 2011 au http:/​/www.usherbrooke.ca/dep-sciences-sante-communautaire/fileadmin/sites/dep-sciences-sante-communautaire/documents/Rapport_stage_mars_2011_-_Julie_Loslier.pdf

Required equipment

The need to purchase equipment such as refrigerators, freezers, and cooking appliances (e.g., panini press, convection oven) for preparing and storing certain “health” foods can discourage some food-service operators. However, the elimination of deep-fried food, for example, can help save money on ventilation system maintenance and required insurance.

Competition

Fast-food restaurants in the vicinity of municipal establishments can represent a tempting alternative in competition with the municipal offering. The menu that can be prepared and offered in sports facilities or hockey arenas is often limited by the storage space available and by the time it takes to prepare certain foods (often one employee only).

In addition, many sports activities and local events are sponsored by nearby fast-food restaurants or by junk food manufacturers. Such financial support is provided more often than not in exchange for visibility and advertising where activities take place (e.g., on-ice and rink-board advertising).
 

Wholesalers/Suppliers

In some regions, finding suppliers is a major challenge. Aside from initially researching products that meet predetermined nutritional criteria, one must also make sure that the products selected are available on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, some distributors change the product brands that they carry, often with no advance notice. When this happens, there can be significant differences in nutritional value within the same food category. For example, all muffins do not have the same nutritional value. Some muffins high in sugar and fat are akin to cakes or contain trans fat, whereas others contain acceptable amounts of sugar and fat in addition to being a good source of fibre.
 

Resistance to change

For some consumers, the association between hockey arenas and junk food is a tradition.

  • For example, in the Montérégie region, a study showed that, for the majority of hockey arena managers (68.8%), perceived or expected customer dissatisfaction with healthier food options was a major obstacle to change [1].

Myth has it, also, that, individuals who practise a sport are necessarily in good shape and, therefore, need not set any limits on the amount of junk food they eat.

Another form of resistance concerns employees, some of whom are averse to change or refuse to see their job descriptions modified.
 

[1] Jeanson, C., Lefebvre, M., Lemire, A., Mailhot, L. & St-Jean, M. (2011). Je patine et je poutine! Repéré le 31 octobre 2011 au http:/​/www.usherbrooke.ca/dep-sciences-sante-communautaire/fileadmin/sites/dep-sciences-sante-communautaire/documents/Rapport_stage_mars_2011_-_Julie_Loslier.pdf

Fewer bidders to manage food concessions

When management is outsourced, some places have had to lower their requirements regarding the quality or the variety of food options owing to difficulty finding a private service provider or an NPO to manage their food concession, despite incentives offered by the municipality (e.g., lower rent).

Moreover, other factors that can potentially influence the choice of food-service provider, such as proposed business hours, affordable prices, and good relations between the representatives of the food-service provider and the manager, could override the objective of offering healthy food options [1].
 

[1] Jeanson, C., Lefebvre, M., Lemire, A., Mailhot, L. & St-Jean, M. (2011). Je patine et je poutine! Repéré le 31 octobre 2011 au http:/​/www.usherbrooke.ca/dep-sciences-sante-communautaire/fileadmin/sites/dep-sciences-sante-communautaire/documents/Rapport_stage_mars_2011_-_Julie_Loslier.pdf

A mix of strategies to improve food options

Various measures can be put forth to overcome the obstacles mentioned above and help municipalities see their projects through.

A gradual shift: one of the keys to success!

Places where setbacks have occurred in terms of the quality of the food options generally opted for a radical menu change, which included removing the majority if not all of the items considered junk food. When changes were introduced more gradually and were supported by a communication strategy, including, for example, free tastings or showcasing of healthy foods, public reception has tended to be more favourable, if not downright enthusiastic.

Initially, it is a good idea for healthy appetizing options–economically competitive and adapted to the consumption context–to be offered alongside the traditional fare. Here are a few tips to follow:
 

Reduce the visibility of less nutritional foods
  • Place healthy foods at eye level in vending machines and place the other products in less interesting locations.
  • Place a proportionally greater quantity of healthy foods in vending machines relative to less nutritional products.
  • Refuse to advertise junk food in municipal buildings and on city/town grounds (e.g., on rink boards, arena walls, baseball stadiums).
    • Aside from promoting food options in competition with those proposed in municipal establishments, junk food advertising reinforces the norm whereby we associate junk food and sport (e.g., offer of a free cone at ice-cream parlours for players wearing their team uniforms, logo of a fast-food restaurant with or without the address of the nearest location).
       
Promote healthy foods
  • Use a glass-door refrigerator to showcase healthy foods offered at the snack bar (e.g., sandwiches, salads).
  • Offer free tastings of new healthy products to the public.
  • Involve staff in the evaluation of “healthy” dishes, including by asking them to try the food themselves. Employees thus gain better knowledge of the new products and can better contribute to their promotion, if not their improvement, if needed.
     
Change pricing in favour of healthy foods

With a view to enhancing the appeal of healthy foods and addressing the issue of overall profitability, “junk food” prices could be raised in order to offer healthy foods at more competitive prices.

Remove deep fryers and deep-fried foods

The most common deep-fried foods include French fries, onion rings, chicken wings, and corndogs. Depending on the context, it is possible to replace these foods entirely or to opt instead for similar products cooked in a way that uses less fat.

  • For example: oven-baked French fries and chicken wings.

It should be noted that the removal of deep fryers has allowed certain municipalities to save money on insurance premiums, CSST contributions, and snack-bar ventilation system maintenance.

Remove energy drinks
  • Given the evidence demonstrating that it is contraindicated to consume energy drinks when doing sport, many places have decided to stop selling these products as a way of staying true to their mission. Incidentally, this was the health initiative most frequently reported by hockey arena managers (46%) within the framework of the project titled La santé au menu (Putting health on the menu) [1].
  • Many municipalities have officially passed a resolution banning the sale of such beverages in public buildings and places under their jurisdiction. Click here to consult the list.
  • Your municipality would like to follow suit? The Weight Coalition, in conjunction with the Association pour la santé purlieu (Quebec Public Health Association) and the Réseau Quebecois de Villes et Villages en santé (Quebec Network of Healthy Cities and Towns), has prepared a model resolution that you can adapt to your context in order to implement a policy prohibiting the sale of energy drinks on your premises.
     

[1] La santé au menu (2011). Présentation des résultats préliminaires. Cueillette de données effectuée dans 25 arénas à travers le Québec. Repéré le 1er novembre 2011 au http:/​/www.lasanteaumenu.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Resultats-AQAIRS.pdf

Remove soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages

Because they are high in sugar (about 10 teaspoons per can) and devoid of any essential nutrient, many cities and towns have decided to no longer offer soft drinks in their establishments. What’s more, for this same reason, many other sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., fruit cocktail or punch, regular slushy, iced coffee) have also been taken off the menu in numerous municipal buildings, particularly those related to sport.

Remove candy vending machines

Given that candy vending machines target children and adolescents in particular, some municipalities have decided to remove them from their premises.

Other factors to consider

Certain factors must necessarily be taken into account when implementing improved food options in a municipality. For example:

  • Time and ease of food preparation
  • Arena capacity
    • How many employees work the snack bar?
    • How many potential customers?
  • Presence of vending machines
    • Are they managed by an outside company?
  • Snack bar business hours
    • Is it open during unstructured activities or only during events?
  • Available eating and drinking areas
    • Are there seats or stands or must customers eat standing?
  • Supplier exclusivity contracts
    • Are we bound to a beverage distributor by an exclusivity contract?

Necessary Support

Aside from political will, which is often the driving force behind major changes, other incentives can help municipalities forge ahead. In this regard, a study reported that 75% of hockey arena managers in the Montérégie region considered financial support a key facilitator to shifting to healthier food options [1].

Support to improve municipal food options can take various forms:

  • Public authorities possess a wealth of expertise that can facilitate going the healthy route. For example, many health and social services centres (CSSS) agree free of charge to provide municipalities with the services of nutritionists to analyze the quality of the foods proposed, design menus, adapt recipes and support environments in the search for products that meet their nutritional criteria.
  • Certain environments have been able to benefit from a grant from their conférence régionale des élus (regional conference of elected officers).
  • Some municipalities have awarded substantial rent reductions in order to compensate snack-bar operators for expenses incurred in relation to purchasing new equipment, finding new suppliers, redesigning eating spaces, and so on.
  • New Brunswick created a program of grants to promote healthy foods in recreation facilities. This initiative allows these facilities to receive financial support to facilitate the shift towards healthier food options.
     

 

[1] Jeanson, C., Lefebvre, M., Lemire, A., Mailhot, L. & St-Jean, M. (2011). Je patine et je poutine! Repéré le 31 octobre 2011 au http://www.usherbrooke.ca/dep-sciences-sante-communautaire/fileadmin/sites/dep-sciences-sante-communautaire/documents/Rapport_stage_mars_2011_-_Julie_Loslier.pdf