The FruitGuys, a 10-year-old San Francisco-based business, has made a name for itself delivering fresh produce to offices nationwide. However, the company has been increasingly applauded for its efforts to help its clients adopt a culture of wellness in their workplaces. “Healthy employees make healthy businesses,” says FruitGuys founder and CEO Chris Mittelstaedt.

In the following interview, Betty S. Hui, office manager at Youngman, Ericsson & Low, LLP, shares how The FruitGuys’ approach has made a difference in the culture of her Walnut Creek, CA-based law firm.

Tell us about how things were before The FruitGuys. Would you say there was much of in the way of a health consciousness in the office? 
When I came on board as office manager in 2003, they were eating a lot of junk food – cookies, chocolates and crackers. I was always bringing in my own fruit and vegetables.

We were turning over a lot then, and I thought [having junk food around] was not healthy and was dragging us down. I suppose it started a lot with me. I knew that if I, as office manager, wanted healthy people, I needed to start buying healthy food.

So when did The FruitGuys become a part of your workplace?
I got a flyer from them and called them up. I told them we’re a small company and couldn’t eat these huge crates of produce, and they said it’d be no problem and we could try half a crate. We really connected.

Betty Hui (center right, in red) and her bikers group dig into a FruitGuys crate of fresh fruit during a recent “Bike-to-Work Day.”

Has your relationship expanded beyond the initial services?
Absolutely. I’d say two things have transpired from all this. First, after the staff got the idea I was pushing for wellness, I said, “Look, it couldn’t hurt. Let’s just start consuming some of this fruit instead of all the junk food.” Then people started saying to me that they prefer the fruit to the crackers, cookies and chocolate. That started it, and now they’re always thinking about wellness. They still have their moments of not eating as well, but they’re more likely to think about shaping up and eating a bit better.

The other point was with my workout group, which involves people from other companies. We’d always been pretty healthy, but then The FruitGuys sponsored our group for “Bike-to-Work Day.” Here in San Francisco it’s once a year, and the event’s sponsors provide goodies for the bikers.

My team was going to have to ride earlier than when the official sponsors would be there, so I asked if there was anything The FruitGuys might want to do to support us. They went out of their way, with fruit and T-shirts and pedometers. It was far more than we expected, and the “Bike-to-Work” people were actually blown away.

How did the pedometers factor in? Did they provide guidance on how to use them?
They threw them in because they knew that our group also ran. They work really well for the purpose of staying motivated – seeing how many miles or steps we take.

It started out as a promotion for our bikers group, but they gave us so many that I gave a couple to our secretaries here, and they’re getting into it.

The workplace is often a sedentary environment. Do you feel your experience with The FruitGuys has changed the office, or the attitudes of your co-workers?
Whereas the staff may have, in the past, been very lukewarm to it, since The FruitGuys, it’s just in their consciousness to think about eating more of the healthy stuff. And really, they have changed their diets; they do eat better.

Over the last three years or so, I haven’t stocked a cupboard full of junk food; I’ll buy a box of crackers or a bag of chips every six to eight months. And people don’t miss it. They don’t say, “Gosh, where’s the chocolate?” I think it becomes a way of living after a while – if it’s not there you learn to adjust and adapt to what’s there.

How have these changes affected your team’s productivity? 
I would say I’m not really looking for productivity, I’m looking for excitement. Like when the fruit comes, I’d rather see them excited about new fruit than a box of candy.

But is this justification enough for the cost?
I think so. The partners at our firm see that I’m spending a little more than I used to on all the junk food, but they can also see that people enjoy seeing the crates of healthy food that come in, and the difference it’s made to many of our fitness levels.

What would you say are the difficulties in adopting a program like this? Do you have any advice for others interested in seeing similar changes in their workplace?

The key is to find a key person who is jazzed and enthusiastic about wellness and health. Probably the biggest hurdle for any office, small or large, is finding that key person or several people who definitely want to do this. Once everyone sees the change and results, other people will gravitate to that as well.