Shifts seen in the marketing of health and wellness at retail

by Keith Nunes
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Food retailers are working with health care professionals to create services focused on promoting a health lifestyle.

WASHINGTON — The marketing of health and wellness is shifting away from a focus on specific conditions and toward lifestyles and the presentation of the products as an alternative to traditional products, according to the Food Marketing Institute’s “Food retailer contributions to health and wellness” report that was released March 10.

The report is derived from a survey of executives with 29 retail chains who represent approximately 6,800 stores in the United States.

“Over the past year, there has been a shift in the strategies retailers use to help consumers identify healthy products,” the report said. “Specifically, there has been a significant increase in identifying wellness products by lifestyle [i.e., vegan, kosher, etc.]. At the same time, there has been a significant decrease in identifying products according to the health conditions they benefit [i.e. gluten intolerance, diabetes, etc.]. However, directly placing alternative healthful products next to original versions [i.e., low-sodium, fat-free, etc.] continues to be a growing strategy.”

The FMI report further noted that 95 percent of the retailers surveyed now employ dietitians at the corporate, regional and store levels.

“Interestingly, there has been a shift between 2014 and 2013 in how in-store health professionals are following up with customers after they participate in a store nutrition program,” the report said. “Specifically, recommendations have doubled for encouragement to get a health screening at the pharmacy or in-store clinic. However, there has been a precipitous drop in the amount of coupons offered for healthy foods in the store or information offered on other nutrition and wellness programs.”

The FMI report concluded by highlighting how the health-care environment, consumer interest and the capabilities of retailers to be solution providers are coming together to define business models that will build the future of retail health care.

“It is even more clear that the cross section of retail and health care is fertile ground for both community service and business growth,” the FMI report said. “Insurers are actively looking for alternatives to reduce costs and satisfy consumer preferences. At the same time, the majority of consumers are interested in receiving minor care beyond the doctor’s office. They are willing to receive advice on diet, nutrition, fitness, wellbeing, and even on managing a chronic condition.”

Cathy Polley, executive director of the FMI Foundation and vice president of health and wellness at the association, said she is seeing more coordination among food retailers and the health-care category.
“I’m witnessing a stronger culinary focus among our members,” she said. “Notably, more than half of the food retailers in this survey employed chefs at the corporate level, many offering cooking classes focused on diabetes, weight management and simple family meals.

“Beyond classes and recipes cited in the survey, food retailers are aware of the numerous studies that cite the benefits of families eating together more often. In 2014, they clearly embraced this concept with 84 percent saying they are actively promoting communal eating, such as family meals.”

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