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It was a problem in search of a solution, and a message in search of a messenger. Studies by the Women's Health Initiative and the National Cancer Institute concluded that long-term hormone-replacement therapy or estrogen-replacement therapy posed increased health risks to women who used them. When those studies were released this summer, another message went out at the same time: There are products on the market that offer relief from menopausal symptoms without the risks of artificial hormones.
It was the kind of information that could have been on the lips of every supermarket manager and on the front page of every store flier. Remarkably, the message wasn't delivered, and supermarkets missed another golden chance to lead in the area of women's health.
"CVS has a Healthy Women's Program with endcaps where there's a conglomeration of products. You don't tend to see that kind of program in supermarkets," says Tori Stuart, president of Zoe Foods in Newton, Mass. Her company distributes soy-and-flaxseed granola and energy bars designed to provide natural relief of menopausal symptoms.
Stuart's company was created when her mother was looking for information to help her address her own menopausal symptoms. Jackie Stuart brought the information about the benefits of soy and flaxseed in relieving the discomfort of menopause to her daughter, and Tori Stuart took the idea and turned it into a natural food product that was both good-tasting and effective.
The most recent health issue for menopausal and pre-menopausal women is that hormone-replacement therapy can be a dicey proposition, with studies talking about increased risk of breast cancer, stroke, and heart attacks in women taking a combination of estrogen and progestin, and a greater risk of ovarian cancer for women using just estrogen-replacement therapy.
The second most important health issue is that treatments can vary from woman to woman. It's the kind of message supermarkets can carry to women, who are by far their most influential customers.
"It's all about education," Stuart says. "It's not a simple solution. It's an educational process. POS is the best way to do that.
"You need to come at people from different angles," she adds. "Certainly, educating people where they shop makes sense."
That's the approach GlaxoSmithKline has taken in promoting RemiFemin, its all-natural herbal menopause therapy. Using the root of the black cohosh, RemiFemin is a non-estro- gen treatment that provides relief from hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Glaxo's Web site, www.gsk.com, provides a variety of information on the issues surrounding menopause and the risks and benefits of various treatments. It also points to clinical trials that showed RemiFemin relieving a myriad of menopausal symptoms.
For example, a Columbia University study found that since hormone-replacement therapy is not recommended for women with breast cancer, a treatment with black cohosh could provide relief for them.
"Choices to relieve the distressing physical and emotional symptoms of menopause are critical," says Dr. Mary Hardy of Cedars-Sinai Integrative Medical Group in Los Angeles. "These study findings should be evaluated in the context of the totality of evidence on black cohosh and inform future research to help all women make informed choices."
In an effort to bring those informed choices to consumers, companies like Glaxo and Zoe Foods are looking for retailers to be their partners in educating customers. Whether the ultimate treatment lands on herbal remedies, ingredients such as flaxseed and soy, or a combination of therapies, the knowledge that there are options in the marketplace can build both awareness and loyalty.
The dieticians we've spoken with tell us that everybody's different. There's no magic bullet, no magic nutritional supplement," Stuart says. "Our whole philosophy is to encourage a healthy lifestyle, whether that be what you eat or what supplements you take."
The trick continues to be in working with supermarket retailers to stay current on issues that pertain to segments of their shoppers and to provide information and direction on products in the store that address those issues.
Stuart points to West Bridgewater, Mass.-based Shaw's Supermarkets as a retailer that has sought out her company to help provide that information. "They want us to help educate their consumers—their store managers as well as their customers," Stuart says.