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A Game Changer

The Obama administration has called on supermarkets and the food industry to be leaders in the nation's pursuit of health and wellness. The federal government's recognition and outreach to supermarkets to help solve the nation's health care crisis makes supermarket execution of health and wellness programs more immediate and important than ever. Sam Kass, White House assistant chef and food initiative

The Obama administration has called on supermarkets and the food industry to be leaders in the nation's pursuit of health and wellness.

The federal government's recognition and outreach to supermarkets to help solve the nation's health care crisis makes supermarket execution of health and wellness programs more immediate and important than ever.

Sam Kass, White House assistant chef and food initiative coordinator, drove this point home when he addressed the Food Marketing Institute's Health & Wellness Conference this month in Las Vegas.

Here are a few things Kass mentioned that the administration would like to see supermarkets do on the health care front.

  • Reformulate private-label products to meet healthy standards with less salt, sugar and fat. “This isn't about finding creative ways to market products as healthy. This is about finding products that are healthy,” Kass told FMI members.

  • Merchandise in prime store space products that meet predetermined nutritional standards. Place healthy products on endcaps and on eye-level shelves that manufacturers compete for.

  • Sample healthy products.

  • Allocate family checkout lanes that merchandise healthy snacks for kids.

As architects of choice, supermarkets have a unique opportunity to help their shoppers achieve better health goals, Kass added.

“If we can find healthy ways to harness the power of the store environment, we'll go a long way toward the final step to showing parents the information they need to make healthy choices. Right now parents have to navigate between a confusing sea of choices inundated with health claim after health claim.”

Kass' presentation was followed by several new studies that demonstrated supermarkets have the power to change eating to healthy food consumption. The grocery store with pharmacy is perfectly positioned to capture what SymphonyIRI says is a $110 billion opportunity in health and wellness sales in the United States.

The federal government's concern about the nation's health, particularly when it comes to epidemic numbers in childhood obesity, coupled with consumers' awareness of the importance of staying healthy, the role food and drugs play in the wellness equation and the overall economic impact of chronic disease in consumers' lives have all converged to make it critical for supermarkets to respond with new wellness programs and services integrated throughout the store.


While supermarkets struggle with incorporating many components of wellness, one theme that predominated FMI's inaugural wellness conference was to keep it simple.

St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Catalina Marketing did this with its Simple Substitutes pilot study, an incentive program run from mid-February through mid-March at Food City, Meijer, ShopRite, Giant Eagle, Food Maxx, Lucky and Save Mart banners to get consumers to switch to lower-calorie food options. Branded products in the pilot were Kellogg's Special K and its Special K 90-calorie bar; V8 V-Fusion Light; Land O'Lakes butter and Land O'Lakes Light butter; and Quaker Mini Delights.

Shoppers in the pilot were selected based upon their purchasing of three out of five high-calorie categories: full-calorie butter, cereals, sweet snacks, snack bars and juices. Of the 290,000 shoppers who were identified as purchasing three high-calorie categories, 216,000 were selected for the pilot and 72,000 remained in the control group.

The campaign consisted of those in the pilot receiving three coupons worth about 40% off retail for lower-calorie versions of the brands in the trial. Consumers were given incentives to trial the products and supplied with additional health information and recipes about the products. These were delivered at the register through the Catalina printer.

“The whole concept is how to motivate people to make changes. We happened to focus on calories but we can do this in other areas like lowering sodium or healthy snacks for kids,” said Sharon Glass, group vice president of health and wellness marketing for Catalina.

Results of the study showed consumers were motivated to try the lower-calorie products. Glass said trial rates ranged from 22% to 200%. For example, V8 V-Fusion Light in the test group had a trial of 140% over that of the control group.

Recall rates of 4,000 consumers interviewed after the program ended ranged from 40%-53%. This was high compared with average recall of rates of 20%-30% for print media, Glass noted.

Simple Substitutes appeared to help shoppers overcome three barriers to healthy eating. Those hurdles are the difficulty in planning, shopping for and preparing healthy meals. Glass added that 64% of shoppers surveyed believed most low-calorie products cost more than those that are full calorie, and that in some cases, taste of low-calorie products may be a barrier. “We gave shoppers coupons to get over the cost and motivated them to try something even though they may have a preconceived taste barrier. We added recipes to show how to use and prepare these products.”

The Catalina Simple Substitutes study is a roadmap for retailers on what shoppers really want in making healthy decisions and what and how they want supermarkets to deliver and execute health programs in stores, Glass said.

She noted in her presentation that supermarket pharmacy is an asset that can be effectively used in connecting shoppers to wellness programs because consumers are receptive to advice from the pharmacist about non-prescription treatments, vitamins and nutritional supplements, and food and beverages. The challenge for supermarkets is to integrate their assets in such a way that it makes a difference in the health of their shoppers. “A lot of retailers are doing terrific things out there, but how do we make an impact?” said Glass.

The next phase for Catalina will be to track repeat usage of products from the pilot group and find out whether the trials of products become permanent choices.

Catalina would like to make this a branded national program. Glass said she will be presenting results of the Simple Substitutes pilot to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in June.

“I am excited about what Michelle Obama is trying to do and everything else happening around this topic [of health and wellness]. Supermarkets have an opportunity to really win when it comes to health and wellness and provide a lot of services to change Americans' health and even impact what moms are feeding their children,” Glass told SN.

In his presentation, “2010 Business as Unusual: Understanding the Shopper in the New Decade,” Thom Blischok, president, global strategy and innovation, SymphonyIRI, Chicago, pointed to five concepts that drive health and wellness shoppers today. These are: Lasting economic concerns balanced with staying healthy; increasing survival instinct by seeking education on smart health choices; continuing frugality with spending on health and wellness through a “lens of affordability”; personalize everything when it comes to health and wellness; and a simplicity mandate to make less more. Usage clarity is crucial in shopping.

The research firm surveyed 1,400 consumers about how their shopping habits have changed since the recession and their views on health and wellness.

“Shoppers tell us they permanently changed shopping habits,” said Blischok. “We are beginning to see downward mobility. That will play a major role in who you are as a supermarket as you race forward. People will buy less because it feels better,” he said.

The researcher found that it is no longer a matter of wanting to be healthy. Consumers feel they must be healthy, with 96% saying that good health is key to their success and happiness. They view health and wellness as a multidimensional effort, Blischok said. He suggests that retailers build programs around exercise, lifestyle, food and beverages, and stress management.

In today's economic environment, more shoppers are self-treating chronic ailments. Shopper health and wellness education, therefore, becomes critical to moving forward, said Blischok.

Of those surveyed, the most prevalent serious conditions were high cholesterol, 43%; hypertension, 42%; obesity, 24%; heart problems/stroke, 23%; and diabetes, 19%. “People are looking for lots of help. Each disease state is the No. 1 issue for people suffering from it. These are the types of programs that need to be developed in supermarkets' respective departments.”

Shoppers, 42%, are increasingly concerned about what's in a product, and their purchase decisions are influenced by product and nutritional labeling. “Americans are pulling out the microscope when it comes to what they eat, drink and take as medicines. Expect label reform to become white hot as American shoppers choose to understand what is in the product,” Blischok said.

He said health and wellness will impact supermarkets' shopper loyalty programs. “After talking to about 35 chief executive officers, it has become clear to me that the majority of loyalty programs are not working. If you want to make your loyalty programs more relevant, then reward for healthy choices. It is simple and effective,” he told the FMI gathering.

Blischok concluded his presentation by saying that affordable health care is the fastest-growing retailer imperative today. He noted a true market leader has yet to emerge. “This is still underdeveloped territory.”

He urged supermarkets to change the acronym HBC (health and beauty care) to HBW (health, beauty and wellness). “The first thing females do to feel better is to buy cosmetics. People want to look as good as they want to feel better.”

To capture the billions in health care dollars, Blischok said supermarkets need to become a trusted advisor in health and wellness. They can do this by providing pharmacy consultation services; becoming an informational resource on health and wellness; supplying meal suggestions for every budget and lifestyle; building good relationships with staff; being creative with innovative thinking around health and wellness; and becoming in-store experts with advice on health and wellness issues.