Gardner's task was to target the consumers who most need to change the way they eat. The answer was to utilize an innovative program implemented by — wait for it — the U.S. Postal Service. When you move and file an official Postal Service change-of-address form, you can elect to receive useful discounts on moving trucks, household appliances, furniture and storage. It's what you need, when you need it. (Gardner worked for several years at Imagitas, the company that designed and manages the postal program.)
To target needy consumers, Gardner reached out to health insurers, which have detailed health data on patients who struggle with their weight and diseases. He asked them to include healthful food coupons in their regular mailings. To protect patients' privacy, Linkwell never sees the health data nor do the brands that sponsor the coupons.
Nor can journalists like me, as federal privacy regulations prohibit the health insurers from disclosing the names of customers who receive Linkwell promotions. But anecdotally, the need for curated coupons seems clear.
Heather James, a 34-year-old mother of three in Huntington, W.Va., likes to use coupons. But when she does, she says she ends up with a cart full of Toaster Strudels and pizza rolls rather than fruits and vegetables or yogurt. "We were eating that stuff and enjoying it," she said. "But we're trying to eat better now, so we've had to change."
Over the past four years, Linkwell has partnered with 20 health plans, including EmblemHealth, Humana, United Healthcare and WellPoint, which cover 120 million consumers. To date, the company has mailed about 100 million coupons from well-known brands such as General Mills, Kellogg's, Kraft and Quaker Oats. The take-up rate — the number of consumers who use the coupons they receive — is more than double the take-up for coupons in the Sunday newspaper circulars.