When we first started our CoreLife Challenge two years ago, we really didn’t know what to expect. We started out slowly and supported our customers who signed up to tackle the 21-day challenge of eating healthy. It was the start of a journey that we had no roadmap for nor did we have a true understanding of where it would lead.

Fast forward to the launch of our 21-day challenge in January. Inspired by our customers and their stories, and inspired as a brand to build on what we started, this year’s results were better than we could have imagined and raised awareness for healthy eating habits that seem counterintuitive to most in the restaurant industry. So, what did we as operators learn along the way? Here are a few lessons:

Commitment is key. It’s easy to sit back and pay lip service to a marketing effort geared toward healthy eating. However, for us to be successful at walking our talk, we had to commit as a brand. That meant that our operational teams and employees fully embraced the CoreLife Challenge. Not only were we asking them to create something new in terms of meal bundles, we also were asking their support for intermittent fasting. We believe as a company this is relevant to an active lifestyle brand and we introduced the idea that intermittent fasting is something the medical field recognizes as healthy. We were shocked that our customers embraced the idea and the number of positive discussions surrounding it. Additionally, not only did we commit to the development of meal bundles, and diet and exercise plans, we launched an entire marketing effort around gathering and sharing our customers’ stories of success. We also brought in Tim Tebow as a CoreLife 21-Day Challenge brand ambassador. We recorded Tebow giving positive affirmations to our customers who were successfully completing the challenge, and we used his commitment to living a healthy lifestyle to encourage our participants to succeed. Because of this commitment, to our employees, our brand and our customers, we had a record 20,000 participants for our first 2019 CoreLife Challenge.

Solve for challenges rather than get stuck on obstacles. When we went back and reviewed how to make this year’s Challenge more successful, we realized we had to help participants eat healthier on a more consistent basis. This was the first year that we offered a meal bundle that gave discounts to participants willing to eat our food. Guests could purchase the bundle and eat either in-store or at home, and in many cases, used the meals to help their families eat better, too. In the first year of its launch, we had nearly 6,000 challenge participants sign up for the program, and this far exceeded our expectations. For us, development of the meal bundles solved the challenge of “How can we help” rather than ‘What’s in it for us.’ By doing that, 91 percent our challenge participants said they would do it again, and we gathered hundreds of testimonials from people saying the Challenge helped improve their sleeping habits, decrease cholesterol, reduce skin irritations, and a host of other positive outcomes. We also had people sharing stories through our social channels and working together to encourage and support progress. We also had someone share a very personal story in regard to how just one day of intermittent fasting shifted their whole view of the world in the form of increased awareness toward the plight of others who may otherwise go to bed hungry. This was all because we chose to solve for a challenge rather than get stuck on our own limitations as a brand.

Camaraderie and community drives true change. When we launched our CoreLife Challenge this year, we were dedicated to helping our guests live healthier and eat better. While we were prepared to do just that, what we weren’t prepared for was the feeling of community our participants had amongst each other and with our brand. We had significant interaction from within our community of CoreLife Challenge members. And this was seen through comments made in person to staff and through our social pages. If someone signed up for the challenge, they had an opportunity to also sign up to our Facebook page where participants could give feedback, talk about their milestones and experiences throughout their journey. Of the number of guests who registered, 10 percent also signed up to our Facebook page. We noted that through our social channels, the No. 1 comment was how connected participants felt with our brand and with each other. What was more encouraging was that our members started to advocate on our behalf and for our brand. As they became more vocal, we became more silent. This was because we no longer had to defend ourselves if a customer was frustrated waiting for food or service. Our customers were coming to our defense for us. It also inspired our employees and created a level of camaraderie among our team members and restaurant managers. It brought out the best in everyone and enabled us to become better at what we do.

In our third year of offering our Challenge to anyone who wants to eat healthier and live better, the results continue to surpass our initial goals. And it all started with one person who, three years ago, sent us a note saying he thought our brand would change his life. We offered to pay for his food for a month, and 27 months later he lost 227 pounds and changed the course of his life. I know what we’re doing works and our entire team is looking forward to how we can grow and change as we continue down this path of mindful eating. We have new ideas and plans for 2020, and using diet and exercise as a platform for true change, we have an opportunity to change the ways our guests view what they put into their bodies. Diet is really 70 to 80 percent of wellness, the rest is about how we choose to live our lives outside of what we eat.

So many of our guests commented that they didn’t realize they could fall in love with healthy food. If that is what our CoreLife Challenge is able to promote, we have already taken the next step in our food evolution. It’s about creating positive change and making real and lasting impacts in the lives of our customers. Real food done in the right way can taste amazing.

Todd Mansfield is a partner and wellness guru for CoreLife Eatery.
Customer Experience, Fast Casual, Health & Wellness, Outside Insights, Story, CoreLife Eatery