For many retailers, the cultivation of whole-health initiatives has begun.
Since the first seeds were planted three years ago through the Educational Foundation studies that documented the health movement for the food industry, sponsored by the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Co., news of the grocery industry's efforts to capitalize on this emerging market has populated the pages of SN's Home & Health section. This year was no exception.
"Due to the heightened interest in health and nutrition, the food industry is seeing a groundswell of retailers aggressively going after the natural- and health-food niche in a bigger way than before," said Mark Johnson, corporate director of merchandising, United Grocers, Portland, Ore.
Among the chains reported to be launching new departments or moving forward with whole-health merchandising concepts this year are: Bashas' Markets (Natural Choice), Ukrop's Super Markets, Stop & Shop Supermarkets, Wegman's Food Markets (Nature's Marketplace), Marsh Supermarkets, Jewel Osco, Ahold's Giant Food, Valu Merchandisers Co. (Natural Solutions) and Copps Corp. (Copps Food for Life).
Even the independents and small chains are vying for a piece of what Bill Bishop, president, Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill., who authored the original GMDC studies, estimates will be a $42 billion market by next year. These retailers include Molly Stone's Market, Mill Valley, Calif.; Pratt Discount Foods (Natural Healthcare Center), Shawnee, Okla., Food Circus Supermarkets, Middletown, N.J., Zagara's, Marlton, N.J. and Lund Food Holdings, Minneapolis.
Competition also heated up this year. The most notable news being the alliance formed between Rite Aid Corp., Camp Hill, Pa., and General Nutrition Cos., Pittsburgh, to launch GNC stores within about 1,500 Rite Aid units as part of a multifaceted co-marketing agreement.
But despite the competition, many observers give supermarkets the advantage in whole-health marketing. "The Rite Aid-GNC deal doesn't yet include any of the eating-for-health opportunities that make whole health so persuasive. This is not the whole enchilada." said Bishop at the time of the deal.
The statistics presented on whole health have convinced most retailers that this consumer-driven movement to maintain a healthy lifestyle will only continue to mushroom in the next century. Already nearly half of today's grocery shoppers, 49%, go into supermarket seeking health and nutritional information, according to this year's "Shopping for Health Study," conducted by Prevention Magazine and the Food Marketing Institute.
Ed Slaughter, Prevention's market research director, noted that by age 55 consumers are spending more on medical care than they are on food. Self care has grown out of consumers' efforts to take control of their health and the rising costs associated with health care, said Slaughter. Therefore, shopping decisions based on self care are being transferred to the food side as well, with 54% saying they purchase foods for their health benefits. "The demographics of the self-care movement are here to stay and are long lasting," said Slaughter.
"This is a movement that has a life. It's not an event. It has a lot of positive characteristics that make for good consumer products-based marketing," said Wally Murray, associate director, industry affairs, Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, whose company is pursuing a Healthy Lifestyles program.
While many retailers implemented the initial stages of their whole-health platforms this year, some struggled to find ways to integrate their plan throughout the store and related departments. The industry turned its attention to the pharmacy as providing a vital pivotal stage for whole health.
This year's FMI Supermarket Pharmacy Conference was devoted to how pharmacy can enhance the whole-health environment. "Repositioning the community pharmacist as a front-line health care professional will require the collaboration of many players," said Laurie Gethin, manager of FMI's Pharmacy Services, Washington, D.C. "Retailers, manufacturers, educators and others must work together to ensure that consumers receive valuable health care information and advice. Academic and training programs must be developed to meet the needs of the emerging health care marketplace," she added.
To help accomplish that goal, GMDC hosted a series of educational seminars to educate supermarket pharmacists on the whole health movement.Tom O'Connor, PharmD MBA, director of continuing education at Temple School of Pharmacy, Philadelphia, helped put the program together. He said, "The pharmacist is in an ideal position to help with at least two of the (health) corners -- nutrition and therapy. Drugs and food can interact in both a positive or negative way and the pharmacist is there to help with those two parts of the puzzle."
Giant Food, Landover, Md., took out full page ads in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post stating that its 550 pharmacists have gone through extensive training on vitamin supplementation and nutrition.
This year many realized the importance of employee training and education, as well as informing customers on whole-health issues.
Health magazines became a focus for retailers as they repositioned them from the in-line reading section to whole-health departments to take advantage of cross merchandising opportunities while better serving their customers with pertinent information. According to a Prevention magazine study, after word-of-mouth recommendations, consumers frequently rely on magazines and books to learn about vitamins and supplements.
Other programs were launched to help retailers bring their staff up to speed on whole health. Valu Merchandisers Co., Kansas City, Mo., conducted its first Whole-Health Solutions Conference last month. The GMDC and FMI is expected to continue hosting conferences devoted to whole-health marketing.
Another noteworthy partnership designed to help retailers better inform their shoppers is Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pa., launching its first Rodale Academy for Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., which launched its whole health prototype last month.