Western Leisure Services manages Aqua Pulse and Eagle Stadium for Wyndham City Council, and rolled out the changes at its cafes in 2017.
Healthy Choices is part of the Victorian Government’s commitment to make healthy food and drink choices easier in a range of public settings including sport and recreation.
It involves the categorisation of food into categories: red (limit consumption), amber (choose carefully) and green (best choice), then promoting the supply and sale of the healthier options.
Now, an independent report compiled by Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre has quantified the benefits.
The report found that in 2017, sales of cold drinks in the red category (eg sugary soft drinks) dropped more than 60 percent. Red food sales were still high but declining, while sales of healthier amber and greed food and drink options increased.
Importantly, a financial assessment found there was no change in profitability over the year.
Western Leisure Services Group Manager Chetan Patel said a key to the success of the transformation was that it was led from the top.
“We made sure we brought all our staff with us, and also made sure we aligned with state policy guidelines and sought practical support from the council to help guide us. It really was a team effort,” he said.
“As an organisation we’re absolutely committed to communicating consistent messages about healthy eating and healthy lifestyles to the Wyndham community.”
Mayor of Wyndham City Council Peter Maynard reinforced that message.
“Making a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of a community starts at a grassroots level, which is why the Healthy Choices guidelines are so important,” Cr Maynard said.
“It’s great to see that the City of Wyndham is at the forefront of this issue and that residents have jumped on board by increasing the amount of healthy food and drinks they are buying from our two biggest sporting facilities.”
A key to the success of the project was the appointment of a dedicated resource by the council.
Vanessa Korfiatis is a Dietitian from the council and she worked very closely with the Healthy Eating Advisory Service throughout the implementation to ensure the changes met Healthy Choices guidelines.
“The transformation was definitely a team effort, but it was streamlined by the fact the council and Western Leisure Services had a shared vision of promoting overall health in Wyndham,” she said.
“It was a stepped process that went from testing to implementation to tweaking to evaluation.”
Negotiation was an important part of the process.
Removing branding and visual signals for things like soft drinks and ice creams is a key to encouraging people to embrace healthy choices.
Vanessa complimented Schweppes and Streets who both came on board and removed branding for red category products, with Schweppes promoting its bottled water products instead.
Now that the healthy choices venues are running smoothly, Vanessa has created detailed plans and food layout maps that can be used as an internal resource or to help transform other venues. This includes colourful “splat” messages on walls to help inform customers, and colour coding of products on shelves.
Café team leader Sabrina Ball said staff were enthusiastic about the new menu.
“The staff have all been closely involved in the change,” she said. “Many have given us valuable ideas such as the development of fresh veggie stick and dip packs that have proved popular with customers and children.”
“It’s now an integral part of our job interview agenda, telling people about Healthy Choices and asking them what they can bring to the café.”
“We’ve also forged good relationships with new suppliers that’s helped us open up the menu.
Sabrina said some customers were a bit miffed for a few weeks that some of their old favourites had gone, but it didn’t take them long to come around and most people were now really happy.
Miranda Blake led the Deakin University team that performed the evaluation.
She said apart from the positive nutritional results, the customer and financial results were key.
“The evaluation showed more than 85 percent of customers supported the food and drink changes,” she said. “And the fact that the whole exercise has had no impact of profit is a clear green light for other councils and centres to go healthy.”
Jessica Kempler is a nutritionist with the Department of Health and Human Services, which helped fund Wyndham to roll out the initiative.
“There’s a clear link between exercise, nutrition and good health,” she said, “so transforming cafes in sport and recreation facilities sends a really important message.”
Sharon Laurence is Victoria's State Public Health Nutritionist and is enthusiastic about the transformation at Wyndham.
“What we are seeing here is local government leading the way to support better health and wellbeing in public places”.
“We’ve already seen large centres like the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre embrace Healthy Choices, but what’s been happening here at Wyndham is a real template for other council owned and managed venues across the state.”
“For facilities ready to make the change, the Healthy Eating Advisory Service is ready and waiting to help.”