Make some space in the Health 2.0 graveyard : Safeway foodflex, the food PHR

foodflex – Goodbye

Remember when, in the early days of Health 2.0, there were so many innovations connecting the things we do outside of the health care system to our health and Web 2.0? I just received this notice in my e-mail box and the memories immediately began flowing…

Safeway foodflex was a great Health 2.0 innovation, trumpeted in this community with on stage appearances by Safeway executives and on this blog (“Safeway Foodflex, somewhat flexible“) though my own use and then a slightly-off-the-record conversation with one of the enthusiastic developers after it was re-rolled (“Safeway Foodflex, Now more flexible“).

What I saw (and still see) is (a) the value of a food personal health record (the “food PHR”) and (b) that the grocery world has useful health data about all of us that dwarfs what the health care system has about us – by many orders of magnitude. This year’s CNBC special “Supermarkets Inc.” is a great watch on this topic.

In foodflex, the customer had access to their grocery purchases and related nutritional information, automatically stocked from the Safeway system. There were some drawbacks, like the ability to separate purchases in a family, and some interoperability with other food sources, but the promise was huge. Imagine if this data (or the summary of it) could be linked to or imported into your electronic health record to be leveraged in your therapeutic relationship with your doctor/nurse/care team/caregiver. Revolutionary.

Now, foodflex is going away (and I just checked, it’s not really working now), and will be replaced by a program that doesn’t include access to a customer’s own purchase information.

I don’t know of any other grocery chain that’s making customer purchase/nutritional information available to them online or in any form. If you know of one, please post in the comments, so that I can transfer my interest accordingly. If anyone has information about lessons learned from its demise, please post that also. Innovation means learning from non-success (or dare I say failure).

We’ll miss you, foodflex. Rest in Peace.


Low adoption/use is the reason these fail – and that occurs because there isn't enough perceived value (relative to time spent). This also applies to the broader PHR market where Google Health was recently advised to simply shut-down, Revolution Health did shut-down (last year), MSFT HealthVault has really low numbers, and Dossia is seeking more money (after spending $15M over 5 years) outside of 8 Corporate Sponsors (not all of whom are using their PHR). Security (30% of practices don't use Anti-Virus software and 34% don't use a Firewall), accuracy of data, and trusted data are as important as getting the data electronically.

Also great for the budget.
I will miss it and there is nothing yet that compares.
Damn Narrow minded people.
I wish Safeway could have us sign a release and get the info.

Ted Eytan, MD