Information comes in many forms, and is available in many outlets. It can enlighten, or it can confound.
Compiling a comprehensive, yet organized selection of literature in stores is a key responsibility often overlooked by big retailers with health and wellness programs.
Brochures, pamphlets and other types of free information continue to be among the simplest ways to provide customers with answers to their questions, but making these materials work as a resource requires more effort than simply tucking them into a kiosk. There's no doubt they are taken and read, retailers note.
"Based on the pieces that we go through, there is a definite faction of our customers who enjoy receiving this information," said Marnie Sherno, director of consumer health education for Kulpsville, Pa.-based Clemens Family Markets. Recipe cards and Clemens' own Delicious Living magazine are the fastest-moving pieces, and are taken primarily by young families with children. Health-related pamphlets, by contrast, appeal more to the chain's senior clientele.
"We also have a Healthnotes [electronic touchscreen] kiosk in every store where customers can look up and/or print out recipes and information on health topics, nutrition, herbals [and] supplements," she said, referring to the Portland, Ore.-based, third-party provider of in-store information.
The first goal of any operator should be to get information into customers' hands, Sherno said. Too often, however, not enough thought is put into locations. Literature racks and displays often go wherever there's room, and this can be a problem when there's so much printed material already in the store. Clemens' free offerings include recipe cards, brochures, a whole health newsletter and the Delicious Living monthly periodical.
Typically, Clemens' stores maintain a central information area that includes the Healthnotes kiosk, copies of Delicious Living and other available health and wellness brochures, but Sherno said the brochures and recipe cards are also placed in their appropriate departments throughout the store. So, pamphlets that address topics like diabetes and heart health are located in pharmacy.
Other nutritionists agree that almost all customers are interested in some type of information.
"We get a lot of shoppers here that might otherwise go to a small health food store," said Lori Kelch, Healthy Living co-director for Dayton, Ohio-based Dorothy Lane Markets. "Those customers like to keep up with health and wellness-related issues, and they want more general information. But we also get customers that have been diagnosed with a condition or illness, such as diabetes, and have been given very little guidance [with regard to managing their diets]."
The customers who come to Dorothy Lane with specific concerns often become very loyal customers, Kelch said, and they spread the word to friends and family, especially those suffering from similar conditions. To supplement the issue-specific columns that she and the company's director of consumer affairs write in Dorothy Lane's monthly Market Report magazine, the stores offer brochures on topics such as understanding food labels, managing your diet as a diabetic, watching for sodium content, understanding different types of fats, and understanding dietary fiber.
The store has also produced a comprehensive list of gluten-free products offered at the chain's stores for sufferers of celiac disease, and Kelch said they had recently produced a new brochure on mercury in fish, in response to customer questions.
It takes time to establish that type of trust and two-way communication, something that Kelch and Sherno facilitate by offering presentations on nutrition and health to local schools, churches and community organizations. Dorothy Lane also hosts seminars by regional and nationally known experts in fields ranging from digestive system issues to autism.
Ironically, the company, which also has a well-attended cooking school and seasonal dessert- and wine-tasting events, found that charging a $10 fee for these classes significantly boosted both interest and attendance.
"I think [the fee] created the perception that these courses were more worth your while. We give people coupons and goodie bags filled with samples, so they're really not paying a lot for this, but the fee does help enhance the perception of a professional consultation," Kelch said. Her own in-store consultations continue to be free -- a service that has enhanced the chain's image for both local customers and local doctors.
"We're becoming well known in the community as a resource for nutrition and nutrition education," said Kelch, noting that a local group of cancer specialists had recently begun recommending Dorothy Lane to their patients for that reason.
Sherno and Kelch are certified nutritionists capable of producing and publishing authoritative pamphlets in-house. Outside organizations could be useful sources for many printed materials, though it's important to screen those products for quality before distributing them in a store, they cautioned.
Sherno said that brochures produced by suppliers -- touting the health benefits of a specific food, for example -- are judged on a case-by-case basis, although she did add that supplier-provided nutrition information on deli products, meats and seafood was generally kept on hand.
Information provided by non-profit health organizations can be useful as well. While in the process of reviewing and updating Clemens' in-house pamphlets on heart health and diabetes, Sherno replaced those materials with brochures from organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association.
When well-deployed, these inexpensive publications can help store associates become more aware of specific issues and help them assist customers when an expert is unavailable. To facilitate this, Clemens Markets has developed a top-down approach to disseminating new information to store-level associates. Sherno explains what information is available at the stores to the chain's directors and assistant directors, who in turn educate store department managers, who explain the information centers and recipe card programs to their staff.
"Store staff are encouraged to lead customers to information if they are asked questions," she explained. "The service departments are quite good at this, especially for recipes. Our goal is to provide store employees with the knowledge to communicate positive nutrition messages to our customers, or the ability to lead them to the information. An informed customer is our best customer."
For retailers who are interested in providing their customers with more heath and wellness information resources at their stores, major non-profits are a good place to begin. The ADA is currently partnering with ConAgra's Healthy Choice brand to produce Supermarket Shopping Solutions, a weekly planner that helps shoppers organize well-balanced meals based on the suggested servings of the food pyramid.
An AHA representative said that supermarket retailers who wished to partner with an AHA chapter for events such as heart health screenings, brochure handouts or heart healthy dieting presentations could get in touch with a local chapter by calling (800) 242-8721.