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Shoppers are taking charge of their health like never before, and the grocery industry is favorably situated to help them do so.
“Consumer-driven health care is a trend that will only grow in prominence as more shoppers recognize and act on the personal connections they have between food selections and their health,” affirms Sue Borra, a registered dietitian and SVP of communications and strategic planning at Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI). “Many food retailers are capitalizing on this trend and making the transformation to be a destination for health and wellness in the community.”
“Grocers have a unique opportunity to become destinations for shoppers interested in changing their dietary habits: they are food experts, consumers trust their local store, and they have the frequency to effectively communicate with shoppers,” notes Jeff Weidauer, VP marketing and strategy at Little Rock, Ark.-based Vestcom International Inc., which offers the HealthyAisles in-store nutrition marketing program.
“Since the nation’s grocery stores understand shoppers’ need for solutions in-store, grocers are identifying their own unique strategies that bridge the gap between food and pharmacy to help support their customers’ overall wellness goals,” says Borra. “We’re witnessing more attention to health-and-wellness programs that benefit the shopper — more than 90 percent of our food retailers report programs related to community health events to healthy recipe development to cooking demonstrations to screening and counseling.”
These types of programs tie in with the idea of becoming an integral partner in wellness. “Grocers have begun positioning themselves as an extension of the health care team, with the addition of on-staff registered dietitians and chefs who lead in-store nutrition and culinary initiatives, and by offering health monitoring services like blood pressure and blood sugar screenings,” notes Jaime Schwartz Cohen, an RD and director of nutrition at Ketchum, a New York-based public relations and marketing agency. “To be seen as a healthy destination, grocers should look to offer services that align with a healthy lifestyle. This includes offering experiences like family activities, couples nights and yoga classes.”
The RD Difference
As Cohen points out, in-store registered dietitians (RDs) can make a big difference when it comes to connecting with consumers on matters of health.
“The rapidly growing role of the supermarket RD is critical to both the success of the store and its shoppers,” agrees FMI’s Borra. “Our surveys and research demonstrate how retail dietitians can leverage these shopper trends to develop a successful and competitive health-and-wellness program in their stores.”
For its part, Ketchum works closely with retail dietitians on in-store initiatives.
“Our most successful initiatives have been when we helped bridge communications and shopper marketing teams with retailers’ merchandising and RD teams,” notes Cohen. “In one example of this integrated-teams approach, we obtained a schedule for when a product was on promotion at a regional retailer and provided co-branded recipe cards to the retail RDs featuring the product as an ingredient in a recipe. Additionally, we developed a how-to guide for cross-merchandising the product on promotion with the other ingredients in the recipe. A post-survey among the retail RDs indicated that the assets and resources we provided were very well received.”
Keasbey, N.J.-based Wakefern Food Corp., a retailer cooperative whose members operate ShopRite stores across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Connecticut, leverages the power of the RD through its Dietitian’s Selection initiative.
According to Manager of Health and Wellness Natalie Menza, herself an RD: “This program enables our in-store dietitians to curate and highlight items that give our customers ideas on how to add new, healthy foods to their meals and snacks. In addition, our team of over 125 in-store dietitians … is dedicated to answering customer questions about health and wellness, assisting them in reading product labels, and overall, giving them ideas and options for healthy meal planning.”
ShopRite RDs also stand ready to bolster the resolve of customers to improve their health. “Since January is one of the most popular times of the year to think about starting new habits, during this month we kicked of our six-week weight management series called Eat Well, Be Happy,” notes Menza. “During this program, customers — and many of our associates — sign up for group/interactive sessions where our in-store dietitians take them through education and inspiration for building and maintaining a healthy weight. The program is very popular, and we’ll be holding it again next fall.”
She adds, “I think the best way to address consumers’ wellness needs is to talk to them, be transparent and give [them] what they need and want,” although cautioning that “education without inspiration is just knowledge without action.”
Accordingly, “our in-store dietitians work to not only tell customers about health-and-wellness initiatives,” Menza says, “but show them how easy it is to make healthy eating choices a part of their everyday lives through education and in-store demos.”