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Supermarkets Need Diplomacy For Health Strategies

By default supermarkets will play a critical role in advancing health and wellness in the nation.

Retailers, whose livelihoods depend on food sales, will be compelled to take the added responsibility of informing their customers about the relationship between food and good health.

The federal government recognizes the greater role supermarkets could play. Recall those photo ops with President Obama in the produce aisle of a Kroger in Bristol, Va., stomping for his health care reform plan and First Lady Michelle at a Fresh Grocer in Philadelphia advocating for supermarket access in urban areas while promoting her “Let’s Move” childhood obesity program.

The reality of health care reform adds immediacy to supermarkets advocacy and merchandising strategies to help keep their shoppers healthy.

The timing of Food Marketing Institute’s inaugural Health & Wellness Conference, which kicks off on Tuesday evening with a networking reception and begins on Wednesday with a number of closed-door collaborative and idea exchanges, is right in step with the national agenda. Unfortunately, most of Wednesday’s sessions are closed to the trade press, but Supermarket News welcomes participant feedback on the content and value of the discussions.

On Thursday, SN will be there to cover workshops and presentations open to the press. Among topics of discussion will be integrating health and wellness storewide. Easy to state, but often difficult to accomplish given the merchandising interests of in-store departments and the lack of total store management buy-in.

Other sessions will deal with employee health; the best utilization of in-store health care professionals — pharmacists, nutritionists, dietitians, and clinic staff; creating partnerships with government agencies; demographics of health and wellness shoppers and how supermarkets can become ambassadors for health.

None of this is new. It has been evolving since the Global Market Development Center first introduced its Whole Health educational marketing initiatives in 1999.

Since then supermarkets have executed health and wellness platforms in bits and pieces. Storewide integration of health and wellness remains a challenge due to disparate interests.

FMI’s goal in hosting this conference is to join those executives from the operational side — those attending the FMI Show — with the health care professionals on the health and wellness side to recognize the benefits of pursuing a single health and wellness vision to further help the millions of underserved consumers who will soon enter the health care system through reform.

To become a true champion of the cause it will take ingenuity, commitment and partnerships with employees, suppliers, communities and the federal government.

The journey began just over a decade ago. It will take diplomacy before supermarkets are recognized as a valuable source in the health care equation.