New Year's Nudge

Whether the goal is to lose weight, quit smoking or stick to a budget, supermarkets are ready with solutions to help shoppers keep their resolutions through the new year. Most retailers are running specials on an array of good-for-you foods. Select chains are also offering elaborate lifestyle management programs, complete with cooking classes, fitness and nutrition seminars and addiction support groups.

Whether the goal is to lose weight, quit smoking or stick to a budget, supermarkets are ready with solutions to help shoppers keep their resolutions through the new year.

Most retailers are running specials on an array of good-for-you foods. Select chains are also offering elaborate lifestyle management programs, complete with cooking classes, fitness and nutrition seminars and addiction support groups.

Because of the stagnant economy, many consumers have added pinching pennies to their New Year's pledges. This has inspired supermarkets to push their private-label brands as more affordable options, industry experts told SN.

Toronto-based Loblaw is doing all of the above. The chain is currently hosting weekly Weight Watchers, smoking cessation and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in its in-store community rooms. A four-week “Healthy Eating Challenge” is also under way.

“With the Healthy Eating Challenge, customers can go online and download healthy menus for every meal they eat for a full four weeks,” explained Sheri Helman, spokeswoman for the chain. “The site breaks down caloric intake for each food and provides substitutions for ingredients, so they have swap-out options if they don't like a certain item.”

Loblaw plans to stretch its strategy into February with the publication of its yearly “Healthy Insider's Report.” The report is dedicated to healthy eating and is slated to include a list of foods that have low fat content, high fiber, and reduced calories or are a great source of omega-3s or protein, among other healthful attributes. The retailer's own line of nutritious PC Blue Menu products — Baked by You Whole Grain Demi-Baguettes and California Pistachios, for instance — will be on the list. So will a handful of national brands, said Helman.

Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill., commends Loblaw for its efforts.

“The advantage of [hosting meetings] is that they entice people into the store once a week, and on their way out they usually purchase products mentioned during the meetings or in newsletters,” said Wisner. “Dovetailing a retailer's own private-label healthy products into a New Year's-themed program is a great idea, too. Shoppers get a grocery list compiled personally by health experts, and the retailer's brand gets a boost in the process.”

Ted Taft, managing director, Meridian Consulting Group, Westport, Conn., agreed, adding that supermarkets with multifaceted programs should select big-picture themes like “Evolving into a Healthier Lifestyle.”

“In the past, there has been more of a promotional mind-set to New Year's resolutions,” he noted. “As a result, retailers have seen strong sales spikes on items like Weight Watchers dinners for about a week or so, but there has been no lasting power.”

Supermarkets should start with their existing health and wellness programs and simply leverage January as the perfect time for shoppers to strengthen their commitment to stay involved for the next 12 months, said Taft.

Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, is thinking beyond January. The chain will continue to host its weekly “Begin” meetings again this year, according to Christine Friesleben, spokeswoman for the retailer. The 10-week lifestyle management program costs $100 per person and emphasizes weight control, fitness and overall health and wellness.

“Our registered dietitians conduct each weekly session, which includes tours of our supermarket aisles to identify healthy foods,” she said. “There is also information on regulating food intake, cooking and eating for health, developing a fitness routine, managing a weight loss plateau and much more.”

Blood pressure checks, cholesterol tests, girth measurements and body-mass index readings are available through the Begin program. And, as an added incentive, participants who attend all 10 meetings will be awarded with $10 Hy-Vee gift cards.

NEW YEAR, NUVAL

One new addition certain to assist Hy-Vee shoppers in their quest for health and wellness this year is NuVal. As part of the nutritional rating system, foods are assigned a score from one to 100, based on their nutritional value.

Solutions like these can help shoppers maintain healthy eating habits year-round.

Don Stuart, managing director, Cannondale Associates, Wilton, Conn., cited Whole Foods Market as another example of a chain with a well-rounded offering.

The Austin-based retailer has an extensive calendar of health and wellness events scheduled for this month. Among its offerings are “Sampling Saturday: New Year, New You” events designed to lead shoppers throughout stores to taste-test a variety of nutritionally sound foods.

On Tuesday, Jan. 13th, the chain's Omaha store plans to open its doors to anyone wanting to learn about the link between diet and inflammation. The following day, a “Fighting Cancer with a Fork!” class will be led there by Methodist Eastbrook Cancer Center oncology dietitian Chandy Lockman Hoke.

Hoke will discuss ways to help prevent cancer using diet and exercise. She will also provide recipes made with an assortment of fruits and veggies available in Whole Foods stores.

Other events to be held at Whole Foods locations in January include weight loss classes, weight loss support groups and several seminars centered on helping shoppers stretch their food budgets.

Such complex concepts are easier for larger chains to manage, said Tim Cummiskey, grocery manager, Highland Park Markets, a Glastonbury, Conn., independent.

“We tend to stick to promoting things like Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine and other familiar foods that help people with the dietary aspect of their New Year's resolutions,” he said. “We also have a computer [kiosk] in each store where people can go and look up healthy recipes.”

Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., has capitalized on technology as well. The chain offers FoodFlex, a personalized online food and nutrition tool that automatically tracks shoppers' food purchases made with their loyalty card.

After each store visit, shoppers can log on to the FoodFlex section of the retailer's website to see how well their food choices match up with USDA guidelines. They can also track household nutrition trends and find healthier alternatives as identified by the American Heart Association.

While health and wellness tend to be at the top of New Year's resolution lists, staying on budget is a common vow this year, retailers told SN. Savvy supermarkets are showing sympathy by promoting low-priced products that help shoppers save.

“In 2009 the focus will be on value — how to make your meal dollar stretch further, how to cut price without sacrificing quality and how to do more with less,” said Stuart. “We expect to see more ‘Meals for Four for $10,’ ‘Dine in Tonight’ and similar-type programs.”

Hy-Vee has adopted such a strategy. The chain is presently promoting 30 individual meals that cost $3 per serving to make. It is also in the process of developing another round of meals priced at $2 per serving, said Friesleben.

Loblaw is upping its efforts, too. The retailer plans to include a large number of PC products it features in weekly ads throughout the first few months of 2009, according to Helman.

“We're definitely focusing on cost-sensitive consumers in the early part of the year,” she said. “We will be heavily promoting our private-label organics, which are only slightly more expensive than traditional items. And many of our PC products will be featured in our circulars as high-quality, yet affordable options for our customers.”

Any effort to save shoppers money will be welcomed warmly, said Taft. But supermarkets shouldn't stop at low-price product promotions. New Year's is a great time to couple causes, he said.

“The best marriage of ideas would be to focus on ‘smart habits’ — namely, foods that are both healthy and budget-conscious,” noted Taft. “Any concept that hits on multiple trends, issues or concerns will only add to the value of a retailer's New Year's program.”