A funny thing happened with two recent SN awards for retailers. These are annual awards given in the fall - one for general excellence and the other for leadership in health and wellness. This year, the company winning the excellence award owed much of the honor to its leadership in health and wellness. Suddenly, health lies at the crossroads of two industry awards. That's surely more than a coincidence.
Health initiatives have graduated from niche marketing opportunities to become a crucial part of the food retail equation. The winner of the 2006 SN Retail Excellence Award is Hy-Vee, the company based in Iowa that operates in seven Midwestern states. (See profile, Page 16). This retailer didn't only win for health. It's also built an empowered associate base and held its ground against intense competition. But health is a crucial part of Hy-Vee's strategy. "We want them [shoppers] to see us as the first place they turn, either on a proactive or reactive basis, regarding health issues," said Ric Jurgens, chief executive officer.
Health considerations are central to how retailers are now perceived. That's because health isn't a fad, even though there are fads under the health umbrella. Retailers can't look at health merchandising as something to check off on a list of smart initiatives of the moment. They need to embrace health as a permanent trend, even if the content and direction change over time. Moreover, retailers should strive for unique approaches to how health fits into their existing formats. Merely emulating Hy-Vee or any other retailer is not the answer.
What has Hy-Vee accomplished to win this award? Its initiatives in the health sphere range from having in-store dietitians lead cooking and food education classes to introducing in-store health clinics for checkups and exams. Additional programs are detailed in this week's feature story.
The other award mentioned earlier in this column is the SN Whole Health Enterprise Award, given to a retailer specifically for its promotion of health and wellness. This year's winner is Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, which was profiled in the cover story of the fall 2006 edition of SN Whole Health, a supplement to SN. Giant Eagle was cited for educating customers about healthier eating, increasing accessibility of natural and organic foods, and energy conservation leadership.
Here's a bit more about the two SN awards: They will be presented this week in Tigard, Ore., at the Executive Forum sponsored by the Food Industry Leadership Center of Portland State University. In fact, this year the PSU conference's theme primarily revolves around healthy living. Among the sessions, I will be moderating a panel on how trading partners go to market with health-oriented products. Panelists will include executives from Sam's Club, Giant Eagle, Kraft Foods and ACNielsen.
There's plenty of subject for debate in health merchandising. But it's hard to disagree that the topic has increasingly caught the attention and imagination of top executives in corner offices at food industry firms.