Health and Wellness Should be a Critical Element in a Retailer’s Go-To Market Strategy

By Jeff Weidauer, jweidauer@vestcom.com

One of the major advantages retail brick-and-mortar stores have is the day-to-day interaction with customers, the ability to hear — first-hand and in real-time — their concerns, compliments and complaints. The best retailers learn how to respond to this feedback quickly, either at the store or corporate levels.

In recent years, shoppers have expressed a much greater interest in getting more information at the shelf while in the store. This has been driven in no small part by the availability of additional information when shopping online. It’s a natural extension to expect that information at the shelf edge in the local store.

The types of information shoppers are looking for vary to some degree by category (ratings and pairings in wine; symptoms in analgesics; recipes in the center store), but one type that has become a requirement across the entire store is the communication of health and wellness information.

According to research done by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) for its 2012 report “Shopping for Health,” a growing number of shoppers are more concerned about buying more healthful foods for themselves and their families, and they are focusing on nutritional components to help make those choices. Whole grain is near the top of the list of preferred ingredients, and there is a trend toward “less processed” food.

For a great example of how the interest in healthier options is making an impact, take a look at the Greek yogurt phenomenon. New York-based Chobani launched its Greek-style yogurt in 2007; not exactly great timing for any new product launch given the recession that year. Six years later, however, Greek yogurt is a fast-growing $2 billion business, with no end in sight.

While this is all good news for the nation’s health, there remains a lot of murkiness surrounding concepts like “natural,” “organic,” and “local.” According to the FMI study, three-fourths of shoppers believe these are all synonymous. Clearly, there is a need for better information — from a trusted source — that is easy for shoppers to access.

While all food products are required to carry an ingredient list and the Nutrition Fact Panel (NFP), which shows relative values of things like salt, calories and cholesterol, shoppers don’t always look at these. In any case, they don’t always help in the selection of what food to buy. Terms like “less processed” are highly subjective and not especially helpful when looking for healthful alternatives.

Supermarkets are trying to do their part to address the needs of shoppers. Most have at least one dietitian on staff now. Some have entire departments devoted to health and wellness initiatives based on shopper demand. But even a full staff of dietitians can’t always be available to answer questions or provide information to shoppers.

In response to the growing need, shelf edge-based programs are becoming more prevalent, like Vestcom’s healthyAisles — the largest and most customizable program for supermarket and drug stores. This program uses the shelf price label as a way to communicate specific qualities relevant to the product to help shoppers find what they want. Rather than a score or ranking, attributes like “low salt” or “good source of calcium” are depicted right on the label for easy comparison.

The beauty of a shelf edge program is how it both uses and builds on the trust that shoppers have in their local store. Plus, for those with a strong dietitian program, it provides an in-store connection to tie the overall program together in a way that is easy for shoppers to use.

Nutrition and wellness are not short-term fads. More and more consumers across generations are making long-term lifestyle changes that will continue to influence their purchase decisions, including where they shop. Safeway CEO Steve Burd recently made the statement that he saw a near-term future where Safeway stores would be primarily wellness centers that sell food. Other retailers are following suit, adding more organic products and expanding local sourcing.

Local products, while not always organic, tend to be less processed, something many shoppers are interested in. A shorter trip from farm to shelf means a lower carbon footprint and a fresher product. These are relevant to shoppers looking to modify their diets in a positive manner, and they will seek out those stores that make local sourcing a priority.

In the battle for market share and shopper loyalty, a focus on health and wellness is a critical element in a retailer’s go-to-market strategy. Value pricing is an expectation, and soon a comprehensive wellness offering will be as well.

Jeff Weidauer is VP of marketing and strategy for Vestcom International Inc., a Little Rock, Ark.-based provider of integrated shopper marketing solutions. He can be reached at jweidauer@vestcom.com.


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