The Problem With 7-Eleven's New Healthy Options

Whenever a huge chain makes an announcement about a shift in business strategy, attention must be paid simply because the effect it has on the market. (This is why I spend so much time looking at the various moves that McDonald's makes.) So, when 7-Eleven announced last week it was partnering with fitness guru Tony Horton to create a new line of "fresh options" for their SoCal stores, it needed to be covered.

However, too much of the coverage was focused on how this move will revolutionize how people obtain healthy food. (Not surprisingly, a lot of the "coverage" is direct quotes from P.R. people paid by 7-Eleven to say exactly that.) While there's a certain truth to that concept, what the move won't do is provide more people access to healthy food.

Because 7-Eleven's new options are way overpriced.

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First, a little more information about the big announcement. Tony Horton, as you may know, is the founder of the home exercise program P90X, which provides users with a high intensity workout that promises to change their bodies in 90 days. (As you can imagine by that summary, there's plenty of risk associated with it.) And now, using his input -- and, more importantly, his expertise at drumming up media hype -- 7-Eleven will offer a new series of healthy options. They will test these out in 104 locations across Los Angeles, and then, depending on how they sell, roll them out to the rest of the country.

What are the options? Two types of sandwiches, two types of salads, two wraps, and four cold-pressed juices. Standard health food fare, nothing all that surprising, except perhaps the amount of sodium that the sandwiches contain:

The Golden Roasted Turkey Breast Wrap with Chipotle Black Bean Hummus, at 410 calories, has 31 grams of protein and 10 grams of dietary fiber. But it also has 880 milligrams of sodium.

For comparison's sake, a can of Pepsi has 22 milligrams of sodium. Those 880 milligrams, by the way, are about half of the daily recommended amount of sodium according to the American Heart Association. So, you know, keep that in mind when you're trying to buy "healthy."

But perhaps a bigger question than "what" 7-Eleven is offering is "why."

They're not the first chain that's shifted their strategy to feature healthier options for consumers. Walmart took the same step earlier this year by getting into the organic market. And in both cases, the answer to why they're focusing on providing healthier fare can be summed up by this:

The [new] sandwiches and wraps cost $4.75 to $6.00, and the juices go for $4.99.

Perhaps those prices are reasonable when compared to other health food establishments, but when compared to offerings at 7-Eleven, those prices are steep. In fact, that's twice the amount of money you'll have to fork over to eat a burrito, hot dog, or whatever other strange meat invention they have rolling next to the register. And as long as that barrier to entry for "healthy options" still exists, it doesn't revolutionize anything.

Don't get me wrong. Having more options is a good thing. If you're on the go, spending $5 on one of their new sandwiches is technically "better" for you than chowing down on two hot dogs. But as far as huge and important cultural shifts in the diets of average 7-Eleven shoppers, this changes nothing other than the company's bottom line. Providing reports suggesting otherwise is misleading.

If 7-Eleven, or Walmart, or whatever corporate chain wants to get applause for offering healthy options, first they should focus on making their cost comparable to the other junk they're selling.

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