Health and wellness trend triggers some retailers to shift gears

by Bryan Salvage
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MADISON, WIS. — Food retailers are changing corporate philosophies and store formats to accommodate the health and wellness focus among consumers, according to "What’s In Store 2009", an annual study from the International Dairy•Deli•Bakery Association. The study highlights how consumers’ health concerns are affecting supermarkets, especially in the prepared foods, deli, dairy and bakery departments.

Retailers of all sizes have been creating smaller format stores, most with names that reflect a fresh, healthy and natural experience. Some industry sources predict the popularity of mega-stores will be overtaken by smaller-size express outlets. Express stores have a small footprint, limited product selection and much prepared food.

Retailers have created various initiatives to cater to customer health interests: health-oriented signage and shelf tags; seminars and consultations with on-staff dietitians and nutritionists; store tours for people with special dietary needs; cooking demonstrations; private-label natural and organic products; proprietary labeling systems to distinguish more-healthful products; Web site links to health information; and customized recipes and meal planners, just to mention a few.

Seventy-six percent of consumers who read labels do so because they are trying to eat healthfully, according to The Hartman Group’s Pulse Report, Food & Beverage Labeling from a Consumer Perspective. In a survey by The Consumer Network, most consumers rated the information on milk and cheese packages as helpful, and most rated the information on packaged bread as helpful, but only 12% of consumers rated the nutrition information on hot, ready-to-eat foods as helpful.

Two food-labeling systems designed to clearly indicate products’ nutritional value to consumers are moving to the forefront of the retail world. Hannaford Bros.’ Guiding Stars, which rates foods with zero (least nutritious) to three stars (most nutritious), is now being licensed and marketed for use by others. Griffin Hospital and Topco Associates are rolling out the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System, which ranks a food or recipe with a score from one to 100, using a weighted formula that evaluates up to 30 nutrients.

Although consumers often equate "organic" with "healthful," shoppers also want to save money. This fact has helped create dramatic growth in organic, private-label sales. Nielsen data shows that in the four-year period ending July 14, 2007, U.P.C. prepackaged, organic, private-label dollar sales increased more than 600%. As a share of the total organic market, private-label organics garnered 14.2% in 2007, up from 5% four years earlier.

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