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Why supermarkets are only fair in health and wellness

Why supermarkets are only fair in health and wellness

It’s hard to get better sales numbers than what supermarkets are seeing in health and wellness. SN’s Whole Health industry survey back in March produced eye-popping results. Some 80% of industry respondents said these categories have grown in sales over the past 12 months, and a third said by 20% or more.

Consumers of all generations, particularly Millennials, are embracing natural, organic and better-for-you items. Mainstream retailers, aka supermarkets, are benefiting. That’s the way it should be because supermarkets have worked hard and deserve the payoff. Right?

Maybe, but that industry survey was only half the story. SN just published the other side, a consumer survey that will humble retail executives.

The consumer data comes from SN’s partnership with Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert, and you can see an analysis by Jon Springer here.

Some 52% of consumers called their supermarket only fair in selection of natural and organic and better-for-you items, and fair was defined as “I usually (versus almost always) can find the brands and items that I want.” That compares with 38.6% saying “good” and 8.9% “poor.”

That sentiment carried over into prices. Asked to characterize prices for natural/organic and better-for-you items at their local supermarket, the biggest percentage, 56%, said “fair,” meaning “about average versus other stores.” Some 25% said “good” or “good value,” while 19% said “poor.”

Many consumers rate their supermarkets as only "fair" in health and wellness.
Many consumers rate their supermarkets as only "fair" in health and wellness.

The broadest question asked was “How does your supermarket rate in servicing a desire to eat healthier?” About 52% said “fair,” meaning “staff often provides service and knowledge, but not always.” Roughly 31% said “good,” while 16% said “poor.”

The upshot is consumers feel supermarkets are performing fair. Stores are meeting basic needs, but could do better.

So how can that be with all the focus on enhancing these categories? One factor is that price really mattered to respondents. Consumers said price was the leading factor influencing where to shop for food overall and natural and organic groceries in particular. In only one segment, produce, did price take a back seat to quality in importance.

To really understand why supermarkets are rated only fair, it’s important not just to view the survey numbers, but to read the emphatic consumer comments. Here’s a sampling of what shoppers want from supermarkets, directly from the respondents:

Lower Prices: “Stop raking us over the coals to eat healthier.”

Better Selection: “Offer more of the foods that places like Whole Foods offer.”

Better Service: “Employ people who have a genuine interest.”

Layout: “Move health to front instead of hiding it at the back.”

Health Commitment: “Stop forcing all the naughty stuff in our face.”


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You have to admit there’s a lot of frustration in those remarks.  Consumers appear to be saying they’re willing to shop for health and wellness products at mainstream retail, as long as stores raise their games. If that doesn’t happen, at some point they may switch to other outlets that do better.

So even as supermarkets celebrate sales growth, their executives need to closely monitor shopper feedback and adapt. Criticism is humbling, but far better to get the truth now while there’s time to act.

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