A shakeout is occurring in diet aids as supermarket retailers watch nutritional supplements fly off their shelves.
Often recommended as high-protein energy boosters, the ready-to-drink nutritional supplements also are often used for weight gain instead of weight loss. Retailers say these drinks are supplanting the meal replacements such as Slim-Fast
and Nestle's Sweet Success.
"You'll begin to see both the doctor-recommended items such as Ensure and the diet products such as Slim-Fast come together in people's minds and on health and beauty care shelves," said Wiley Loften, HBC buyer at A&P's Southeast division in Atlanta.
Indeed, this is already happening as many retailers are forced to evaluate their diet aids sections because of a slowdown in reducing aids and dismal sales of meal replacements.
"We've been working Ensure and Boost into our existing reducing aids space," said Robert Nowell, HBC buyer at Community Cash Stores, Spartanburg, S.C.
Nowell said he sees a lot of potential in these high-protein and energy drinks because brands are targeted to different demographic groups. For example, Boost is aimed at younger consumers while Sustacal is positioned for older adults, he pointed out.
"We separate Boost from Sustacal on the shelf because Boost has a separate image from Sustacal," Nowell noted.
Price Cutter/Ramey Super Markets, Springfield, Mo., has gone the distance in setting up separate nutritional sections in its 30 stores.
"The new sections feature Ensure and Boost," said Brad Beattie, the chain's HBC buyer. "We've also brought in a body-building supplement and included homeopathic products and herbal remedies. In essence, we've created a wellness center." Towne-Oller & Associates, a New York-based market research firm and subsidiary of Information Resources Inc., Chicago, confirms retailers' reports of fast growth in the nutritional drink segment and their overall concern for the rest of the diet aid category.
For the 52 weeks ended Aug. 31, 1995, dollar volume of nutritional meal supplements, a $200.7 million category, shot up 80%, with Ensure capturing 80% of the market. These figures do not include Boost, which was introduced last month by Mead Johnson Nutritionals, a division of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., New York.
Statistics in a statement the company issued regarding Boost pointed to lifestyle changes -- especially with more Americans working longer hours and having less time to eat full meals -- as an explanation for why these energy products have become popular.
"Ensure and Boost are trying to change their images. They are trying to become more of an active lifestyle item," said Beattie of Price Cutter/Ramey.
"Food supplement drinks are not necessarily for people looking for a diet, but for those looking for a healthy, balanced nutritional program," explained Gary Schloss, vice president of general merchandise at Carr Gottstein Foods, Anchorage, Alaska.
"Boost and Ensure fit the bill for people who are in a hurry. They can grab a can of these drinks and be certain that they are not being short-changed on nutrition. We are finding a big increase in sales there," added Schloss, who is expanding space for nutritional products.
Meanwhile, the news is not that good for sales of the traditional reducing diets and meal replacements. Diet pills, a $32 million segment, were up just 2% for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 31. Meal replacements, which showed some activity several years ago with the introduction of Nestle's Sweet Success, plummeted 28% to $175 million, compared with the period a year earlier.
"Meal supplements have been well positioned and are outselling the meal replacements. Manufacturers have changed their marketing and are now targeting the weight-reduction market. Ensure and Boost are now trying to compete with Nestle's Sweet Success," said Loften of A&P.
However, Betsy Turgeon, HBC buyer at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass, disagreed: "Boost is similar to the meal replacements, but is geared to the younger, more active consumer. It doesn't really compete with Slim-Fast or Sweet Success. They really attract a different customer."
But most retailers interviewed agreed that powders and pills are out in diet aids. Said Turgeon, "Sweet Success has done well and boosted the category a little bit, but powders have done poorly."
Dan Van Zant, HBC buyer at Ray's Food Place, Brookings, Ore., said, "All the liquids do much better than the Dexatrim and other appetite suppressant pills. They do poorly, so they are represented, but not in very large quantities."
Said Schloss, "The traditional appetite suppressants, like Dexatrim, still have a market, although we are cutting back on space for that a little right now.
"But these things [the reducing aids] go in cycles and right now the visible product is the ready-to-drink liquids. The body-building products are also growing," he said.