Wegmans grocery store in Fairfax, Va. (© Jacquelyn Martin-AP Photo)
It's one thing to say you're cutting part-timers' health care benefits because of Obamacare and declare it a bottom-line issue. It's another to do so while still offering those workers a full slate of wellness programs that are producing results.

That's the situation Northeast supermarket chain Wegmans found itself in when it announced earlier this year that it would cut the health care benefits of part-time workers starting in 2015. It currently offers coverage to all workers employed for 20 hours a week or more.

While it's been noted by The Buffalo News that Wegmans employees might be better off under Obamacare, given the subsidies included therein, Wegmans is trying to make it abundantly clear that the health of its employees is a lot more than a line item. The Huffington Post made the case for the chain by sharing the story of an employee who lost 35 pounds, thanks to Wegmans' blood screening and fitness programs.

It also detailed efforts by chief executive Danny Wegman to funnel some of the company's $6.6 billion in sales toward blood pressure tests, nutrition coaching and on-site yoga and Zumba classes. That's not just for folks up the the corporate suites but for each of the company's 45,000 workers, right down to the checkout clerks.

Wegmans says it has been a worthwhile investment. It told Supermarket News that the share of its workers with high blood pressure has dropped from 24% to 14% since 2008. Wegmans saw a similar drop in the share of its workers with a high body mass index, a measure of body fat, during the same period.

For the company, it's an equal investment in both its workers and its brand. According to a 2010 Harvard University study, every dollar spent on wellness programs earns companies $3.27 on average. Another Harvard study found that such programs keep workers from switching companies.

They also bring some consistency to the Wegmans brand, which includes an in-house label replete with high-fiber and high-calcium products targeted at health-conscious consumers and a corporate policy that banned tobacco products from stores in 2008.

Wegmans may be joining Wendy's (WEN), Papa John's (PZZA), Denny's (DENN) and others in cutting part-timers' benefits, but it's going to great lengths not to have its views toward worker health lumped in with those of the fast-food folks. In Wegmans' view, it's not ducking a problem but offering a solution.

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