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How Retailers Market Health to Resistant Consumers

How Retailers Market Health to Resistant Consumers

Judith Dodd is everything you'd want in a registered dietitian.

As corporate nutritionist for Giant Eagle, she's a strong advocate for health and wellness and helps steer the retailer's programs in ways that benefit consumers.

However, even the industry's best dietitians, including Dodd, sometimes encounter resistance from the very customers they are trying to help.

“Consumers are still dragging their feet,” she said in a roundtable published in this week's SN. “I am still baffled by the fact that people ask for classes, demos and help, you schedule them, fitting their requests, and they don't show up. Personal responsibility for wellness is still lagging behind what it needs to be.”

Dodd echoes comments heard in other quarters of the industry. Her reaction isn't to abandon wellness efforts, but to keep figuring out ways to better encourage customers to respond.

That's a crucial goal, according to panelists in this week's roundtable, which was arranged and overseen by Bob Vosburgh, editor of SN Whole Health. The panelists are all industry experts who are contributors to SN Whole Health's Refresh blog.

Participants emphasized that education is a sure-fire way to produce lifestyle changes. Some of the best tactics include using knowledgeable retail staff, signage, handouts, computer kiosks and classes, said Anna Soref, editor-in-chief of Natural Foods Merchandiser (a sister company to SN under parent Penton Media).

Retailers also need to proceed carefully in dealing with the “overwhelmed and confused customer” who is suddenly diagnosed with a health problem, she added.

Stores are already becoming more sophisticated in how they seek growth in the wellness sector, said Ruth Kinzey, a retail communications specialist who is founder and president of The Kinzey Company. She pointed to routes such as incorporating portion-control packaging and suggestions, offering flu shots, making recommendations on nutritious school lunches, and focusing on healthy meal merchandising.

Meanwhile, many retailers are using direct mail or in-store multi-brand sampling events, said Matt Saline, founder and CEO of Mambo Sprouts Marketing. Many are also pursuing newer platforms such as social media, blogging and targeted e-campaigns, he added.

These are all excellent suggestions for building consumer buy-in and, ultimately, sales. However, as mentioned before, it's important to be flexible because consumers don't always react as you'd like.

That was backed up by another example from Dodd, who said health screenings and fairs seem to have less payoff for some organizers than before. That's because consumers are more selective as these types of events proliferate in communities. So her suggestion is to aim for “a more long-term approach rather than a quick promotion and media event.”

That seems like especially good advice. The more times you can touch consumers with health information, the more it will be an ongoing conversation rather than a one-time discussion.

One more thing retailers should know about health marketing. Independent natural food stores often have an edge over conventional chains because they have a history of superb customer service in these categories.

That point is made in an article in this week’s SN that came to us from Natural Foods Merchandiser.

“Independents are doing what they have always done,” Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, Natural Products Association, said in that article. “They’re not as cheap as the mass merchandisers. So they offer information.”

Not only that. They strive for a superior in-store experience all around for customers, in everything from look of the store to quality of offerings.

That doesn’t mean conventional grocers can’t compete, but it puts them under more pressure to stay in the ballpark on such offerings.