Supporting healthy ageing – the Snowball effect

George Gordon
George Gordon
Corporate Communications & Campaigns Director

How Tesco works to help improve 'healthy ageing'.

At Tesco’s headquarters in Welwyn Garden City we have the wonderfully named Snowball building. This is by no means fanciful branding, but in fact a tribute to an important person in Tesco’s innovation heritage. In 1984, Jane Snowball, a pensioner from Gateshead, became the world’s first online shopper. As part of a programme run by Gateshead Council, to give greater support to older residents, and using then cutting edge ‘Videotex’ pilot technology, Mrs Snowball ordered goods from her local Tesco store through teletext on her TV. 

Shopping on the Internet

Online shopping has come a long way since then, not just at Tesco but across the globe. Emarketer values the total amount of online sales last year at $2290Bn. And we’re very proud that one of our customers kicked it all off.

Given Mrs Snowball’s contribution, it felt fitting to represent Tesco at a Healthy Ageing innovation event close to her home this week. As part of the development of the government’s Industrial Strategy, I was in Newcastle with leading experts from the public and voluntary sectors, from academia - the National Centre for Ageing is based in the city - and other businesses, including small businesses and social enterprises, with Innovate UK overseeing the process. Given that one in four of the population will be 65 or over by 2046, our task was to work together to look at new ways of helping people lead better quality lives into and through their later years.

Supporting customers and colleagues

Sustainability expert John Elkington led the sessions with considerable enthusiasm.  He and his team encouraged us to share our insight and look to identify disruptive systemic solutions - including new business models - not just token projects. I was blown away not just by the expertise in the room, but the clear desire by so many organisations to grasp the opportunity to change the way we treat the older generation and make better provision for their physical and mental wellbeing.

At Tesco, we are committed to helping our colleagues and customers lead healthier lives and we aim to do this for all ages. It’s worth bearing in mind that our workforce in the UK has colleagues ranging in age from 16 to 89 years. Similarly, many of our most loyal customers are elderly or care for elderly relatives and friends, so the way we serve them is incredibly important to us.

We know that ‘post-family’ shoppers now make up almost 50% of the UK grocery market and we are encouraged that our older customers tend to have the healthiest shopping baskets, so there is an opportunity to play a central role in healthy ageing.

Making the most of our stores

We often adapt our stores to meet the needs of elderly customers, for example, in Eastbourne, Forres and most recently Swansea, where our Superstore has partnered with a local charity to run dementia-friendly shopping sessions. We also have options to use our stores, particularly the community rooms, pharmacies and cafes in the larger ones, to look at offering additional wellbeing services and support to customers. And the discussions in Newcastle indicated that there’s no shortage of interest in other organisations working with us in our stores to improve the way we serve older people in our communities.

Tesco's Charity Partnership

Collaboration is undoubtedly key to doing this and going forward we also have a great opportunity to ensure our new charity partnership - Little Helps for healthier living - with the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK plays a key role in helping our colleagues and customers stay healthy into their later years.

In Newcastle, John Elkington summed up that while we don’t know what an increasingly older population will mean in terms of our politics or their risk appetite for investment, the prosperity and wellbeing of our future seniors is very much in the hands of us all - young and old. And we will need to work together to make things better. Businesses, local authorities, technical specialists, academics and, of course, older people. By doing this we hope for more breakthroughs like the one Jane Snowball started in her front room over 30 years ago.

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