Supermarket Wellness Watch: Data shows breadth of retailer health commitments

A ShopRite dietitian counsels a patient

It’s one thing to say food retailers are boosting their commitments to health and wellness. It’s another to actually crunch the numbers and understand how this is playing out.

A recently released report does just that by quantifying the growing retailer involvement in clinics, community health partnerships, consumer education, and other areas.

That report is Food Marketing Institute’s 2017 Retailer Contributions to Health and Wellness. DSN presented a timely news story when this report was unveiled in August.

It’s worth taking a deeper dive now, because of the report’s extensive data, and to relay the perspectives of a leading retailer in health and wellness.

First, let’s look at some of the report’s key findings, based on its survey of retailers:

  • The overwhelming majority of retailers — some 96% — said they are committed to expanding health and wellness programs in their stores;
  • Some of the most widely practiced health-related activities include product sampling, healthy recipes, good-for-you-products, front of pack labeling on private brand products, better-for-you prepared foods, and health screenings;
  • Virtually all retailers have pharmacists on staff, and almost 90% employ dietitians; and 
  • Three-quarters of stores report that pharmacists and dietitians are collaborating by referring customers to each other.

The findings were most illuminating when documenting extensive retailer involvement in specific initiatives, such as clinics.

“Perhaps the most tangible evidence of supermarkets becoming a key partner in health and wellness for the communities they serve is the rise of in-store clinics,” the report observed.

It found that 32% of respondents have clinics in some of their stores. All of these clinics — that’s 100%!  — are staffed with nurse practitioners. Other personnel include physicians’ assistants (75%), dietitians (25%), and health coaches (12.5%). The care provided by clinics included immediate (63%) and a  combination of immediate and chronic care (38%).

The report also spelled out the extent to which retailers are embracing involvement with community health partners. Some 96% of respondents have plans to work with specific community partners in the coming year. The choices of partners include local hospitals or health care networks (79%), health insurance providers (63%), allied health organizations such as AHA and ADA (63%), universities (58%), work site wellness programs (58%) and local gyms and/or professional trainers (50%).

The report also shed light on how retailers are going beyond in-store efforts to educate consumers about health. Almost all retailers — 93% — have web pages dedicated to health and wellness. The majority — 71% — publish health and wellness blogs. Sixty-two percent provide weight management programs for adults and children.

I reached out for more perspective to the retailer who chairs the FMI committee that produced this report.  Natalie Menza-Crowe is director of health and wellness for Wakefern Food, the operator of ShopRite supermarkets and a retail health and wellness leader. She said the report’s findings underscore how wellness efforts now extend to virtually all retailers.

“We’re getting close to the 100% mark of retailers focused on health and wellness as a primary objective in their business models,” she said. “As you go through the report, you see that retailers vary in where they focus efforts, such as with dieticians, culinary, in-store demos, cooking classes, store tours, and other areas. But all of it works.”

She added that having dietitians partner with pharmacy is a very positive direction for the industry.

Commenting on the wide range of industry health initiatives, Menza-Crowe emphasized that choices of activities need to be determined by market needs, and even by store.  “It has to be specific to the market,” she said. “Cooking classes might work better in one store, whereas one-on-one consultations may work better in another.”

The report’s data will be useful to retailers of all kinds hoping to benchmark how their activities compare with the wider industry. The upshot is that retailers are making deeper investments in wellness activities. No longer is the conversation about whether this is worthwhile. It’s about how many and which activities each retailer will focus on. That’s marks a big advancement.

David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker who was the longtime chief editor and content leader of Supermarket News. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries. To read last month’s blog post, click here
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