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Grocers have a golden opportunity to seize one of the most important food trends and make it their own.
Health and wellness — encompassing “free-from,” natural and organic, functional, and other foods targeting specific dietary needs — is the new normal. Despite what the current obesity rates may indicate, people truly want to eat better. And CPG companies certainly are answering the call, if exhibitors at the recent NRA, IDDBA and FMI shows — and the avalanche of entries in PG’s own Editors’ Picks contest — are any indication.
Many retailers have stepped up in grand fashion — perhaps most notably, Hy-Vee (more about that company shortly). But it’s time for grocers to lead the food industry as a whole, amid the slings and arrows of critics who loudly and (in my opinion) unfairly blame makers and sellers of food for the country’s nutritional shortcomings.
We need to own it, folks. People rely on grocers day in and week out, so health and wellness has got to be our thing.
Preaching quite passionately on this very issue is Darren Singer, SVP of pharmacy, health & wellness at Safeway, who advocates a whole-store approach. “The opportunity for food and pharmacy is clear,” Singer told an audience on the final morning of the FMI Connect show last month in Chicago. “Food and pharmacy fill every need.”
What are shoppers looking for from their grocers? Healthy food options, nutritional insights, special dietary needs, organic/natural/local, and free-from foods.
And what do people want from their pharmacies? Fast service, convenience, access to “my pharmacist,” advice, solutions, prevention, control and well care.
As Singer noted, pharmacies are no longer “count, pour, lick and stick,” as many grocers, including Safeway, have established central filling centers to free up pharmacists’ time to engage with consumers more deeply on wellness issues.
“Pharmacists are true health care providers,” Singer asserted, arguing that the most pivotal area for grocers to have the greatest impact on wellness is diabetes care. With the food and medicine all under one roof, grocers are poised to offer 360-degree diabetic care by assisting with self-management, medical counseling and healthy eating in a true destination for patients.
To that end, Singer explained, Safeway has been transforming its pharmacies to provide a greater degree of “patient-centered care” — lowering druggists’ counters to make them more accessible to customers, opening clinics and wellness centers, and offering counseling and dietitian services.
It’s the last feature in particular that PG continues to explore, most recently with our second annual Retail Dietitian Symposium, held in Chicago in the days leading up to FMI Connect.
PG shared proprietary research about how grocers use retail dietitians (more about that and the event in our August issue), and presenters discussed such relevant topics as the latest healthy products and how to better leverage social media to connect with consumers on wellness issues.
Perhaps most significant, however, was a presentation by the Category Management Association’s Gordon Wade, who offered advice on how retailers can “make sure your banner is identified with health and wellness.”
Key to that, Wade contended, is getting the category on your company’s corporate scorecard to demonstrate its worth and persuade upper management to fully embrace its sales potential. Crucial to stopping channel leakage and winning back those customers who are eating outside the home in increasing numbers, Wade said, is showing how grocery solutions beat restaurants on price and convenience for wholesome, healthful meals.
Later, at the FMI show, Hy-Vee executives outlined their chain’s strategic initiatives: customer experience, health and wellness, and culinary experience. Sheila Laing, Hy-Vee’s SVP of health and wellness solutions, explained that the grocer’s H&W department encompasses dietitians, pharmacy, clinic partners, wellness-related services, employee health, and its its Healthmarket of natural and organic products.
A major concern among attendees at PG’s event as well as at the Hy-Vee talk was how to measure ROI of dietitian services. While Hy-Vee has UPC codes to track wellness services, its ROI goes beyond basic sales to long-term relationships with customers.
“You’ve changed a person forever, and you’ve got a customer forever,” said Helen Eddy, assistant VP of pharmacy services. “How do you put a price tag on that?”
And that’s exactly the point.