Near Westside: Trade Up for Better Health

Nojaim Brothers Super Market — an innovative, family-owned grocery store — has a keen appreciation that it needs a healthy neighborhood with healthy residents in order to thrive.

“Food is at the heart of a healthy community; it was food that led to the formation of human communities to begin with,” said Paul Nojaim, who runs the store started by his family 98 years ago. Click here to see more about the history and future of Nojaim’s.

Paul Nojaim
(Paul Nojaim at the the 2015 Near Westside West Street Crosswalk Press Conference and Parade)

Nojaim has been looking for ways to counter what he sees as the negative influence of advertising of large food companies that push his customers towards unhealthy, processed food.

If this sounds like the perfect scenario for a collaboration, you are correct. The Lerner Center is working with Nojaim’s and St. Joseph’s Health Hospital, along with the Near West Side Initiative  to build a program called Healthy Shopper Rewards Program.

The program starts with a new nutrition-scoring index for the supermarket called NuVal, where items will receive a score of 1 to 100 based on their nutritional value, with healthy foods receiving the highest scores, according to Lerner Center Managing Director Rebecca Bostwick.

The scores on their own will help customers make smarter choices without having to dive into the vagaries of food labels. The scores also form the basis for incentivizing healthy shopping, along with price and promotion strategies utilizing in store “Trade Up!” Circulars.

In conjunction with the roll out of NuVal, the Lerner Center, Nojaim’s, and Primary Care Center-West have collaborated on a Diabetes Self Management initiative, funded by Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield. Patients are offered monthly group sessions, on a range of topics including nutrition and healthy cooking. Participants then receive “prescriptions” for fruit and vegetables at Nojaim’s, thus allowing at least some of the cost of the fresh veggies to be offset. Feedback and outcomes to date have been very positive.

st. joseph's primary care center west
(St. Joseph’s Primary Care Center- West)

As the Lerner Center has learned more about the nutrition education needs of the shoppers, the partners continue to design and test programming in the store and community.

“The goal of this project is to improve the health of the community by enabling and empowering residents to make healthier choices about the food they eat,” said Dr. Tom Dennison, the Lerner Center’s Faculty Director. “Using data to help people make decisions about what to buy and eat coupled with the primary care setting has enormous potential to impact population health.”

Nojaim himself credits the Center with making the collaboration possible.

“Building the collaboration has been a lot of work, and that’s where the Lerner Center has been absolutely critical, the difference maker really. There’s no way a big hospital and a neighborhood grocery store come together in partnership without the Lerner Center in the middle. They don’t have a dog in the fight. They have no interest in running a hospital or a grocery store. They are only interested in the outcome of better public health.”