Summer Elation: Sun, Fun & Health

THE FITTEST SEASON OF THE YEAR is just around the corner, and retailers are getting into shape promoting health and wellness to families. For some, the workout is simple. Shelves are being stocked with organics and other good-for-you foods. Signs highlighting locally grown produce are going up. Kiosks are even shedding weight for the summer as recipe cards touting heavy winter fare are swapped out

THE FITTEST SEASON OF THE YEAR is just around the corner, and retailers are getting into shape promoting health and wellness to families.

For some, the workout is simple. Shelves are being stocked with organics and other good-for-you foods. Signs highlighting locally grown produce are going up. Kiosks are even shedding weight for the summer as recipe cards touting heavy winter fare are swapped out for those with lighter meal suggestions.

Select chains are also prepping for participation in elaborate events centered on holistic health.

Price Chopper is one such retailer. During Mother's Day weekend, the Schenectady, N.Y.-based chain will sponsor a wellness garden at the Albany Tulip Festival. The garden will house an organic farmers' market and a kids' education and play area. Live bands will also be there to entertain guests, said Mona Golub, Price Chopper spokeswoman.

“There will be information at the wellness garden that promotes the importance of caring for self, others and the planet Earth,” she said. “Contacts will be offered with local and regional sources focused on yoga, personal wellness, meditation, nutrition, environmental awareness and other areas of people's lives that are affected by green opportunities or that lend themselves to green alternatives.”

The retailer's corporate nutritionist will also be on hand to impart organic inspiration to attendees, she added.

All health and wellness events sponsored or hosted by the chain throughout the year are promoted in store circulars, on window signs, through in-store radio spots, on its website and through other advertising channels.

“Retailers are really starting to capitalize on healthy living through promotions, and summer is the perfect time to take on the topic,” said Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, a consulting firm. “People are no longer shrouding themselves in clothes like they did in the winter and early spring, and they are getting outdoors and exercising more, so they're more focused on health and wellness.”

Highland Park Markets, Glastonbury, Conn., employs several simple tactics that touch on health and wellness. During the summer months, the retailer offers fresh food grilling recipes for shoppers in search of healthful meal ideas, said Tim Cummiskey, grocery manager there.

“We also try to promote other items like Smart Water by Glaceau, which people associate with health,” he said. “When we have healthy proteins on sale, like chicken and fish, we put them in ads — along with recipes — and highlight them as good options for those watching their waistlines.”

Food aside, consumers are concerned with other aspects of health and wellness, like taking care of their skin, added Cummiskey. Consequently, sun care gets a lot of attention in Highland Park stores.

“We bring in and promote a lot of different sunscreens and related products so our shoppers can find the protection they most prefer,” he said.

Fresh Encounter, Findlay, Ohio, has a highly specific health program that will continue to run throughout the summer this year. The program, “Dining with Diabetes,” offers families affected by the disorder the opportunity to get food-buying advice and special diabetic-friendly recipes in-store.

“We partnered with a local dietitian who has a wealth of knowledge to offer about foods that are best for those suffering from diabetes,” said Eric Anderson, co-president for the chain. “She will be on hand each month to talk to attendees, each of whom will receive a free recipe book.”

During each month's session, four recipes — an appetizer, a soup, a main course and a dessert — will also be dispersed, enabling participants to gradually build a collection of meal ideas.

Fresh Encounter will also bring back its “Eat Local Food” campaign, said Anderson. The campaign features produce and prepared foods that are sourced locally.

With all the opportunities at hand, industry experts still lament that retailers seem slow to take advantage. According to Don Stuart, managing director at Cannondale Associates in Wilton, Conn., health and wellness offers a great warm-weather promotional opportunity that many are missing.

“It's a great time to promote healthy snack options, for example,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is an emerging concept that really hasn't transferred to retail execution much.”

Passikoff agreed, adding that retailers don't have to come up with complex campaigns to promote the concept. Every retailer, he said, has the opportunity to capitalize on health and wellness, regardless of the available budget or time constraints.

“Retailers just have to look across categories and figure out what products they have that could be considered health-and-wellness-oriented,” he said. “Even something as simple as photocopying a list of things people can do to live healthier and handing it out to shoppers would work.”

Spring Lake, Mich.-based Orchard Markets created a calendar for 2008 filled with light recipes for each month of the year, including healthy grilling ideas for June, July and August.

Like many retailers, Tim McGovern, Orchard Markets' grocery manager, feels that planning anything more extensive than a calendar would be a challenge, as the retailer's two stores — although only 5 miles apart — have vastly varying demographics.

“Our Spring Lake store is visited by a lot of upper-class, wealthy shoppers, and they like things like whole wheat pasta and some of the newer yogurts like DanActiv and Activia,” he said. “We couldn't give away products like this at our Fruitport store, though.”

Certain good-for-you items do go on sale at Orchard Markets from time to time. Produce, bottled water, lean meats and frozen meals from Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice and other diet food makers sell well. As for major cross-promotions or health and wellness events, “this isn't probably the best type of supermarket for that,” said Cummiskey.

Ted Taft, managing director at Meridian Consulting Group, Westport, Conn., encourages supermarkets to follow the lead of fast food franchises. For example, McDonald's now has many healthful items available on its menu that extend the brand into the realm of wellness without impacting its main emphasis on burgers.

“Retailers can still focus on core food items such as hot dogs, hamburgers and steaks, then expand on these to build incremental sales by including other and often higher-margin food items like condiments, sides, desserts and dressings,” Taft said. “Wellness items can be included in these events too, but not to the exclusion of popular favorites.”

Outdoor grilling periods, particularly those focused on the big three summer holidays — Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day — are obvious choices for retailers to run such promotions, he added.

Stuart recommends cross-promotion events with tie-ins to beverages like water and tea, good-for-you snacks such as carrots and apples, and outdoor items, including sunscreen, Frisbees and yoga mats. Frozen novelties made with real fruit juices, organic products and added vitamins are also options, he said.

Taft named nonfood items like sun care products, beach toys, batteries, sunglasses, portable grills and other picnic and beach gear as likely inclusions.

“Supermarkets can easily create an ‘Outdoor Solutions’ area, promoting themselves as a one-stop shop for all of one's summer health and wellness needs,” he said.