Last week's launch of an industrywide, front-of-pack nutrition labeling initiative  was big news across the country. The announcement in Phoenix — at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference — drew widespread coverage in the media, which quoted industry representatives praising the effort, and a few critics.
But the most important constituency, consumers, hasn't had a chance to weigh in. That's because the new labels don't even appear on products yet.
The Midwinter event provided a valuable window into how consumers judge health initiatives in general, particularly those from retailers, and it turns out that understanding their thinking could be as easy as ABC:
• A for Advocacy: Consumers will embrace wellness programs that seem to advocate for them. This is certainly true for women, insisted Marcee Nelson, president and founder, Pink Tank, one of the Midwinter presenters.
“Women want to feel someone's on their side,” she said. “The opportunity [for marketers] is to change the mindset from advertiser to advocate. An advocate has a shared purpose, action and dialogue.”
This advocate concept isn't surprising, but it's critical for companies to embrace if they want to play in the wellness space.
• B for Boldness: Consumers will respond to bold health initiatives. That's the contention of Wendy Liebmann, CEO and chief shopper of WSL/Strategic Retail, who as another Midwinter speaker praised the wide variety of existing supermarket wellness efforts. She contended that supermarkets are dramatically closing the gap with drug stores on being identified for wellness.
However, she added that supermarkets still must step up their games with even bolder health efforts. What does she mean by that? Here's one explanation she provided: The wellness theme needs to be relayed “in every aisle of the store.”
That's an ambitious goal, but there's no reason it should be outside the reach of supermarkets.
• C for Crossing Boundaries: Consumers want wellness initiatives, particularly those from retailers, to play out across traditional lines. Why limit a program to one category or store department? Or even to the physical store? This discussion of crossing boundaries actually emerged at Midwinter in a different context, a presentation led by a Nielsen executive about how to enhance Center Store .
That session emphasized the need to leverage the total store and integrate messages between the physical store and its online presence. A similar formula should work for enhancing wellness merchandising at retail, for example using consistent signage and cross-merchandising throughout the store while coordinating with the retailer's website and mobile presence. Otherwise consumers won't understand why programs are limited in scope.
It's almost impossible to predict how consumers will react to specific health initiatives, but the ABCs of how consumers view such programs in general are within our grasp.