Tony Bouchard admits he’s an addict.
He’s addicted to using an app on his smartphone to make healthier food choices and save money.
Bouchard, who lives and shops for groceries in Ellsworth, works as an animal care technologist at The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) in Bar Harbor. Last spring, JAX began participating in a program called NutriSavings, which provides financial incentives for employees to buy healthy foods.
With the NutriSavings app installed on his phone, Bouchard can scan every item in a participating store to find out its nutritional value.
“I used to go in the store and be out in 20 minutes,” he said. “Now it’s over an hour. I’m scanning everything. I’ve found that the healthiness of some of the things I used to get is so low that I don’t buy them anymore. I look for other alternatives.”
JAX employees also can use their NutriSavings app to pre-shop anywhere, anytime. They can look up every food item in a store and compare the nutritional value of different items and different brands of the same item.
“This app is amazing,” Bouchard said. “I’m learning so much from it and I’m eating healthier.”
When he rolls his grocery cart to checkout and swipes his NutriSavings card, the combined nutritional score of his purchases is automatically tallied. The healthier his food choices, the more NutriSavings points he earns, which over time add up to to savings on his out-of-pocket health insurance deductible.
JAX employees who participate in the NutriSavings program can trim up to $720 a year off their deductible.
But that’s not all!
NutriSavings also offers “e-coupons” that are good for 75-cents off this or $1.22 off that.
And wait, there’s more!
JAX offers its own incentives for employees to sign up.
“When we started, we said that if you register [for NutriSavings] on the website, we’ll give you $10, and if you register a supermarket loyalty card, we’ll give you another $10,” said Ben Billings, JAX’s wellness program coordinator.
“It’s sort of a win, win, win. Also, every Friday, you get an email telling you about special offers on healthy food in your area.”
One recent Friday afternoon, Bouchard got an email from NutriSavings that said: “Please find below 29 healthy offers and $39.25 in savings.”
He said the possibility of saving money is what first attracted him to the NutriSavings program.
“But I’ve gotten into it so much now that I’m doing it because it’s healthier and I really enjoy it,” he said.
JAX began offering employees the opportunity to sign up for NutriSavings in March, and so far about 35 percent of them have. JAX has nearly 1,400 employees in Bar Harbor and about 400 out of state.
NutriSavings is the most recent addition to JAX’s extensive employee wellness program called JAXfit Passport to Better Health.
It includes free health and exercise classes, free use of JAX’s modern and well-equipped fitness center and free health risk assessments. Last year, 70 percent of JAX employees took part in the JAXfit program.
One of its most enthusiastic participants is Christa Brey.
“When I started working here in May 2007, I was definitely overweight,” the lab’s opportunity development specialist said. “I thought something has to change. So, I started taking advantage of the fitness center, which is just amazing.
“I also started looking at my diet. I took a class on nutrition here for a good year that was super helpful. It wasn’t only about losing weight, but just healthy eating.”
After one year she had lost 50 pounds, and she has kept it off.
“Once I got the weight off, I started running and realized I really like running, and I haven’t stopped since,” she said.
Brey runs in the annual JAXfit 5K and other races in the area. She also participates in the NutriSavings program.
“I started when it first came out in March, and I’ve been using it pretty faithfully,” said Brey, who lives in Lamoine and does her grocery shopping in Ellsworth.
Hannaford and Shaw’s are the two supermarket chains with stores in this area that are NutriSavings partners.
Billings said the goal of NutriSavings and, indeed, of JAX’s entire wellness program is to help employees and their families improve or maintain their health. Of course, JAX benefits, as well, because a healthier workforce is more productive and helps control the rise in health insurance costs.
Billings said JAX and other large employers in Maine routinely look at what each other is doing in terms of employee wellness and readily share what works best. Among the collaborators, he said, are the University of Maine, L.L. Bean and Cianbro.