Most food retailers have some sort of health-and-wellness program in place, but as consumer interest in clean labels, nutritious eating and healthy lifestyles increases, grocers’ current offerings may not be enough.
A responsive, dynamic approach to health and wellness is crucial for grocers. As Karleigh Jurek, corporate dietitian for Lubbock, Texas-based United Supermarkets, observes: “A well-established health-and-wellness team can be beneficial for retailers by providing a needed service that resonates with today’s guests that could promote stronger loyalty from these shoppers and ultimately increase sales.”
Citing “several educated assumptions” from her organization’s Health and Wellness Council, Susan Borra, chief wellness officer at the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI), executive director of the FMI Foundation and a registered dietitian (RD) herself, affirms that “consumer values around health and wellness will continue to grow in importance and continue to be a key purchase driver. Riding the trend for consumer-centered health care, more customers than ever before are looking for health care options, and the neighborhood grocery store has the ability to fulfill this need and serve as a wellness advisor.”
In terms of products, Carl Jorgensen, director, global thought leadership-wellness at Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon, points out that “health and wellness is the fastest-growing trend at retail. Natural and organic sales are projected to grow 11 percent annually through 2020. Retailers are seeing the opportunity for their private brands to offer consumers a less-expensive entry point to health-and-wellness products.”
So, what can grocers do to address consumers’ evolving needs?
First, they need to realize that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Elisabeth D’Alto Jalkiewicz, supermarket/retail subgroup chair of the Food and Culinary Professionals dietetic practice group at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, in Chicago, urges retail dietitians to “learn about your associates, your customers and the community you are serving. I think it’s important to not generalize that all retail dietitians should be taking the same cookie-cutter approach. Depending on things like your geographic region or your primary shopper, you have to tailor programs to meet those specific needs.”
St. Cloud, Minn.-based Coborn’s is already on board with this directive. “We are focused on meeting our communities where they are at,” notes Amy Peick, who oversees the Midwest grocer’s health-and-wellness program. “Our communities have both similarities as well as differences. Each of them has different needs and expresses their interest in different areas of wellness. Our supermarket dietitians in the store have the capability to be flexible with events and activities that are offered to our guests.” (For more about Coborn’s, see PG’s Store of the Month feature.)
This program customization should extend to the various demographics served by supermarkets. “In recent years, a major topic of discussion is the rise of Millennials as consumers, and how best to reach this group while still resonating with older age groups,” says United’s Jurek. “This will continue to grow and develop, especially with Generation Z beginning to reach adulthood. Health-and-wellness teams will need to continue to adapt the messaging to methods that appeal to these different groups.”
Additionally, when publicizing their health-and-wellness offerings, retailers should directly address convenience. “The key is to really resonate with consumers’ needs by targeting your promotions or merchandising efforts to provide meal solutions like quick weeknight dinners, one-pot meals or top-10 pantry staples,” suggests Jalkiewicz.
Accordingly, Coborn’s is touting the convenience of a new feature in its newest locations. “As we follow trends within health and wellness, we see that individuals are searching for convenience,” says Peick. “However, we are finding that many of them still want to be engaged in a simple form of the overall cooking process. From these trends we have implemented a Chop Shoppe in our next-generation stores. The Chop Shoppe is the spot where we chop your fresh produce however you’d like it. This is extremely convenient for our shoppers to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables without having to take the time to prepare them.”
There’s also the issue of visibility. “It’s both difficult and expensive for dietitians to be personally on the floor at all times,” notes Jorgensen. “However, they can be visible in other ways, such as through at-shelf communications like ‘Our dietitian recommends’ and ‘Did you know?’ signage.” He additionally advises that dietitians offer store tours for customers, incorporate access to their services into telephone and online customer service offerings, and work hand-in-hand with store pharmacists to better connect grocery and pharmacy.
Partners in Health
As Jorgensen indicates, health-and-wellness programs enable retailers to engage with customers beyond the food aisles. Jalkiewicz also urges in-store dietitians and pharmacists to work together more.
“Building an excellent referral system between dietitians and pharmacists is a great way to grow your one-on-one consultations with customers, and also for dietitians to refer customers back to the pharmacist if they have questions regarding medications,” she explains. “Dietitians and pharmacists can also team up during health screenings in the store and in the community.”
“Drug interactions, diet regimens and supplements are all areas of the store where the pharmacist can help guide the shopper and work more strategically with the supermarket RD to positively influence their shoppers’ lifestyles,” notes Borra. “There are excellent opportunities for pharmacists and dietitians to help patients with their diet questions and treatment needs.”
Pharmacists can boost their visibility through at-shelf communications similar to those suggested for dietitians, Jorgensen observes, as well as offer private-brand precision wellness services. “Pharmacists can make personalized dietary and lifestyle recommendations based on data from wearable activity trackers, DNA test kits, blood biomarkers and microbiome analysis,” he says. “This is also an opportunity for retail dietitians.”
The idea is that “the dietitian can perform the role of the pharmacist’s extension throughout the store,” asserts Jorgensen. “Daymon believes that bringing pharmacy and grocery together is one of the most compelling opportunities for retail in the next few years.”
He further advises that category managers and merchandisers also get involved in health-and-wellness programs “to get dietitian- and pharmacist-recommended products and communications in front of shoppers,” and that “training of store employees by pharmacists and dietitians will help activate health-and-wellness programs across the store.”
Meanwhile, in the retail trenches, many supermarket health-and-wellness programs are perpetually being refined to better meet consumers’ needs.
“As we see an increase in demand for health-and-wellness resources, Coborn’s plans to expand the dietitian program,” notes Peick. “This would include hiring additional RDs, building more next-generation stores with continued emphasis on fresh departments around the perimeter of the store, and healthier options in convenient foods and ready-made meals.”
Coborn’s “continually expanding” program features three RDs, each covering a different region of stores, who network with local businesses and organizations, along with offering such services as store tours, personal consults, lunch and learns, classes, and nutrition education presentations and events. Other health-and-wellness efforts at the grocer include the NuVal nutrition guidance system, healthy checkstands selling only Dietitian’s Choice items, and free fruit available in the produce department for kids to snack on.
“We will be [further] implementing our Dietitian’s Choice program in our stores by having shelf tags on all of those items,” says Peick. “With the trends [of] looking for healthier convenience food items, we will potentially add more healthy checklanes [and] more Dietitian’s Choice items in fresh departments, as well as develop programs for kids that focus on healthy eating, physical activity and an overall healthy lifestyle.” Coborn’s additionally plans “to expand on corporate wellness initiatives and healthier break-room options,” she continues, further noting the “many opportunities to be innovative with our fresh departments.”
To get the word out about its program, Coborn’s uses such channels as social media outreach, radio shows, TV segments, blogs, newsletters, brochures, handouts and recipes, according to Peick.
When it comes to communication, spurring greater digital engagement is key. “In the future, we hope to continue to grow our media presence as well as developing a voice on different digital platforms through social media outlets, blog posts and online videos,” says Jurek, of United, whose current health-and-wellness initiative consists of three full-time registered dietitians and nine contract dietitians providing such services as store tours and themed media segments across various outlets; Health Tags, which quickly identify at the shelf those foods that are beneficial to specific health conditions and dietary preferences; and Dietitian’s Top Pick items.
“Our team also hopes to see more point-of-sale advertising through digital messaging found directly in the stores,” adds Jurek. “We hope this will helps us create more interaction with our guests and engage them with our health-and-wellness team.”
Jalkiewicz predicts even more activity in cyberspace. “I think we may see more health-and-wellness efforts integrated into the online shopping programs for many retailers,” she says. “If customers are using a delivery system to order groceries through the retailer, and not stepping foot in the store, those are missed opportunities for dietitians to have an impact and educate those customers on their health-and-wellness needs.” Again, Coborn’s has begun to move into this space with its To The Table meal kits, available through the CobornsDelivers delivery service. The kit, according to Peick “contains a recipe with everything needed to cook a quick and easy meal in your own home.”
Through such endeavors to adjust their programs to shifting consumer demands, Jurek believes that “health-and-wellness teams have a very unique opportunity to help differentiate [their companies] from other competitors in the industry.”
For more about in-store health-and-wellness programs, visit progressivegrocer,com/hwprograms.