Private Label Buyer

To Your Health

March 26, 2012

Wellness-oriented shoppers are becoming a more potent buying power.  Experts describe how to best attract, and merchandise to, the sector.

Consumers’ interest in creating healthier lifestyles is having a major impact on food merchandising. A wide cross-section of shoppers are seeking meals that are nutritionally sound and good tasting, and they are visiting a wide variety of venues-including the refrigerated section of supermarkets. 
Two experts describe the state of the market and how refrigerated food retailers can best attract the increasingly lucrative health-and-wellness customer base.
Laurie Demeritt is president of The Hartman Group Inc., a Bellevue, Wash.-based health and wellness market research and consulting firm.
Kim Kircherr is a corporate dietician for the Jewel-Osco, Hornbacher’s, Shop ’n Save, Save-a-Lot and Supervalu Pharmacies divisions of Edens Prairie, Minn.-based supermarket operator Supervalu Inc.

PLBuyer : How are shoppers’ attitudes about health and wellness changing?

Demeritt: It is an ongoing change that has been occurring over the last 10 years. Consumers are seeking to have a higher quality of life for a longer time. And their behavior hasn’t abated during the recession. More are still making healthy choices.

PLBuyer : What steps can retailers take to attract these health-oriented shoppers?

Kircherr: We’re communicating to consumers via social media and through store signage. The goal is to help create awareness of how to build a balanced meal. The Jewel-Osco Facebook page, for instance, has recipes for healthier eating. I also tweet information on quick or easy meal solutions. It’s a fun way to message, open a dialogue and get people excited for actionable steps. We also have shelf tags in stores that direct people to the Jewel-Osco Website where they can click on a healthy eating tab.

PLBuyer : What is driving shopper interest in healthier refrigerated foods?
Demeritt: The triggers are different for each demographic segment but activity is occurring among all groups. Baby boomers, for instance, are getting older and they want to take better care of themselves. Younger women who are pregnant with their first child say that they want to take good care of the child and to be around for them. And for many in the younger generation, healthy food equals quality.

PLBuyer : How do many wellness-oriented shoppers perceive refrigerated selections?

Demeritt: They see the items as being fresher and less processed than shelf-stable foods, and the perimeter as healthier than the center store. For example, soy milk for many years languished in the center store. But it spread to the mainstream after it was moved to the refrigerated section where it was seen as healthier and fresher. Consumers say refrigerated is top of mind with other fresh categories for wellness and the center store is not.

PLBuyer : How popular are refrigerated items that carry the natural and organic monikers?

Demeritt: The designations are not compelling anymore to consumers. Other attributes, such as the products being locally sourced and seasonal, are becoming more important. There is more of an emotional connection by saying how a product was grown and where it was raised. Local also symbolizes freshness because users know the product did not sit in a truck for three days as it was brought in from another part of the country. That is important to consumers.

PLBuyer : What are the major challenges facing retailers that merchandise health-and-wellness-oriented refrigerated foods?

Demeritt: Refrigerated is a relatively new category for many wellness shoppers and it is not on their radar screen. Once they are aware of pertinent refrigerated products, it makes sense to them. The challenge is getting their attention in a chaotic shopping environment and when they are time stressed. Refrigerated is more compelling than the center store.

PLBuyer : Who does the refrigerated merchandiser compete with to attract health-oriented consumers?

Demeritt: A major competitor is the deli department where shoppers can pick up ready-to-eat prepared meals. Grocery stores also are battling with foodservice outlets. And consumers are shopping for health and wellness items at different types of outlets, including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and farmers markets.

PLBuyer : What steps can retailers take to most effectively market refrigerated health-and-wellness offerings?

Demeritt: Few situations are cookie-cutter. There are varying levels of health and wellness shoppers. Some have just started on that journey. Others are well on their way. Many consumers want information on the products’ ingredients. Others are interested in the calorie count. But just putting up nutritional signs at the case is not enough. You need to determine who the specific customers are and then decide how to market to them.

Kircherr: People love ideas on what to do with healthier foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Some think they are less delicious than other selections or that it will take hours slaving in the kitchen to create something that tastes good. A misconception it that preparing the foods is harder than it actually is.

PLBuyer : How is consumers’ interest in health and wellness likely to evolve over the next few years?

Demeritt: There are no signs that shoppers will stop viewing healthy eating as important. Health and wellness is not a fad. It is a gradual evolution. You will be hard pressed to find a retailer who will not say health and wellness is important to them and their customers.

This story is reprinted from the November issue of PLBuyer sister publication Perishables Buyer.