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Grocers’ challenge in health, wellness

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During wide-ranging remarks at the recent FMI Midwinter Executive Conference, Leslie Sarasin reiterated an important point about the nation’s supermarkets — the stores are ideally positioned to play a dominant role in meeting consumer demand for products and services that support health and wellness. The Food Marketing Institute’s president and chief executive officer talked about the opportunity while assessing areas that are expected to generate robust growth for members of the trade class.

MMR Opinion“We should not overlook the important consideration of health and wellness,” she said. “If we at FMI have learned anything through the ethnographic interviews we conduct with consumers in our trends research, we now must comprehend the primacy of health and wellness in shaping shoppers’ dietary decisions. Frequently, consumers refer to having made a dramatic shift in their shopping patterns at some point in their lives by seriously revising their diet or becoming a more informed shopper or an avid label reader.

“We learned that our own health and wellness matters capture our attention and inspire behavioral modification, and we tend to trust those who demonstrate a sincere interest in helping us achieve our health and wellness goals.”

In theory, no retail channel is better suited to assist consumers in that regard. Supermarkets remain the primary outlet for food shoppers, and the majority of those stores include a pharmacy counter and an assortment of health and beauty care products. In addition, many grocers now have dietitians on staff who advise customers about nutrition and its impact on health.

“We at FMI are convinced that consumer interest and engagement in health and wellness will continue to grow in importance and will prove to be an undisputed key purchase driver,” noted Sarasin. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it now — as people prefer holistic approaches to health and wellness, food retailers, standing in the nexus position between food and pharmacy, as well as nutrition and provision of medical services, are uniquely positioned as health and wellness resources for their customers.

“And talk about trust — if consumers are convinced you’re helping their families stay well and you’re contributing to helping them feel better, you can bet that they’re going to be loyal shoppers.”

Sarasin makes a sound argument about supermarkets’ potential, but in the real world a lot of work still needs to be done to achieve that vision. Drug stores are determined to defend their position in health and wellness, where they hold a commanding lead in pharmacy. Chain drug stores account for 42.7% of prescription drug dollar sales, independent pharmacies 15.7%, and food stores just 9.7%. Clearly, grocers must find new ways to raise their profile among pharmacy patients and close that gap, while increasing their share of the H&BA business. At the same time, supermarketers need to constantly remind consumers about the intersection of nutrition and health, and their unique expertise in dealing with the first part of that equation.

Only when shoppers grasp that connection will grocers be able to fully capitalize on, in Sarasin’s words, “the point at which issues of health and wellness intersect so beautifully with our industry’s preferred areas of differentiation strategy, whether it’s in the fresh, deli and fresh prepared, or the private brands arenas. These key points where food retailers seek to stand out already can receive a vital boost if they glow with a health and wellness halo.”


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