Intense fat-loss program has Starbucks workers muscling up to be grande
About two blocks from its corporate headquarters in Seattle's Sodo district, the latest laboratory for Starbucks is in full swing.
But all of the movement and energy at 2200 First Ave. S. has nothing to do with concocting a new type of cappuccino or latte. Instead, all of the work at this second-floor gym is about developing healthier employees and ultimately reducing health care costs for the coffee giant.
Starbucks workers -- or partners, as they are called in company lexicon -- are pumping iron and exercising on cardio equipment as personal trainers constantly give words of encouragement. Before or after their workouts, employees can take nutrition classes, and some have even formed lunch clubs where workers take turns bringing low-fat meals to share.
Welcome to one of the latest corporate wellness programs, Starbucks style.
During the past year, Starbucks Corp. has offered employees at its headquarters and a few surrounding locations the opportunity to enroll in Kinetix Living, an intense fat-loss and nutritional program that has a financial boost from Maveron, a Seattle venture capital firm backed by Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz.
Schultz's stake in Kinetix through Maveron is less than 5 percent, and he has no management role in Kinetix, according to Starbucks. Schultz, who has enrolled in the exercise program, could not be reached for comment for this article.
By the end of September, about 500 Starbucks employees will have completed Kinetix's eight-week program. The 53 employees who started in May lost a combined 319 pounds of body fat, or roughly six pounds per employee, during an eight-week stretch, said Jamie Brunner, co-founder of Kinetix.
Brunner also boasts that cholesterol levels and blood pressure are down for many employees, who are weighed and measured when they enroll and participate in the six-day-a-week program, which includes 30 minutes of exercise each day. After the eight weeks are over, employees can continue on their own.
Anna Kim-Williams, a Starbucks spokeswoman, said the company got involved with Kinetix to "encourage our partners to maintain their health and share in the responsibility" of controlling health care costs.
Starbucks declined to say how much it is paying Kinetix, and the company said it's too early to determine whether there has been any cost savings for health care, a continual concern for employers. However, Kim-Williams said the company has seen fewer sick days in the past year.
Around the country, major employers have implemented wellness programs to battle rising insurance premiums and to increase productivity. Some employers even entice employees with small bonuses to stop smoking or to work out.
"It's easy and fun," said Nancy Haver, one of the first Starbucks enrollees, who lost 30 pounds. "It has made an enormous change. I feel I have a future for myself. ... If I can be a healthy employee, I will be at work more often."
Haver, a food services supervisor, began the program last October, and she said she noticed increased endurance during a recent work trip to Costa Rica. She said the program is extremely popular with employees, and Kinetix said there is a four-month waiting list.
However, a few employees whose companies also are involved in the Kinetix program privately refer to the program as cultlike because it's so rigid in tracking food consumption and how much a person exercises.
Along with Starbucks, Kinetix is training employees from Cobalt Group, an automotive marketing service that also houses the gym, and will have 25 of its employees enrolled by the end of the year. Seattle-based Bartell Drug Co. has about 130 employees in the program, but many of those workers get personal training via the Internet or phone and exercise at different gyms.
"The big push now is health programs, and the question is how do we get our people healthy and have them take better care of themselves and reduce health care costs?" said Jean Barber, vice chairwoman and treasurer of Bartell Drug. "It's incredible how much health care dollars are spent because people don't take care of themselves."
Kathy Mandity, an executive assistant at Cobalt, said she's in the best shape of her life, thanks to Kinetix.
"It was a really good thing for me. I'm generally not sick, and I'm at work all the time. But I didn't have a lot of energy, and I was 10 years from retiring and I could use a jump-start," said Mandity, who has lost 25 pounds. "It's a no-nonsense program."
Brunner said the goal within a year is to open the program to the public, and then start marketing it to other major businesses.
"Everyone thinks there is a health care crisis. It's not a health care crisis, it's people not being healthy," said Brunner, who has modeled in fitness magazines with his wife, Meagan.
Brunner, who also trained celebrities, said while he's in shape now it was his inability to keep the weight off that prompted him to start Kinetix with his wife.
He said a decade ago, while in Scottsdale, Ariz., he was a 300-pound restaurant manager who was so plump that he ripped his pants while bending over to pick up a stack of plates in front of a room full of customers. An embarrassed Brunner said he finished his shift with an apron wrapped around his backside, and he went home that night and cried. His wife decided she, too, was tired of being heavy, and the couple started working out and eating better.
They developed the Kinetix program, which requires at least a half hour of exercise six days a week, nutrition classes and offers more than 600 recipes that break down the number of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in meals. Participants also have the option of buying prepared Kinetix meals, much like Jenny Craig or other weight-loss programs.
The business was launched in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2002, and Brunner said he and his wife drove around their native Canada in a 1987 Volvo pitching the plan to small groups.
Within a year, Kinetix had more than 1,000 people signed up. Kinetix Living eventually sold nutrition bars, meal replacement shakes and other food products at select retailers in Canada.
Brunner said in 2004, he listened to a talk on health care by Schultz and told him about Kinetix and how it could help Starbucks.
That led to Kinetix, which has 25 employees, moving from Canada to Seattle to start a pilot program with 17 Starbucks employees.
The pilot's success led to a much larger program, and Starbucks last month also began selling "Protein Smoothies Powered by Kinetix" in six Seattle stores.
"Kinetix truly understands their culture and their partners," Brunner said. "We add value to each other.
"It (Starbucks) is such a fun company, and their values and ours are so similar. ... It was a very easy relationship to develop."
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