Through such nonfood concepts as Do-It-Yourself Health, supermarkets are tapping the 75 million people 37 to 53 years old who have one trait in common, age.
"The most obvious thing is that they're getting older," said Jim Wisner, vice president of Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill., of the baby boom generation. He noted that the first wave of boomers began turning 50 in 1996.
The U.S. Census predicts that the number of people aged 50 to 59 will increase nearly 50%, from 25.3 million in 1996 to 37.7 million in 2006.
Do-It-Yourself Health, according to a Willard Bishop Consulting study released by the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., last year, is a trend that is rising as boomers age. Willard Bishop expects the DIY health category to grow by 51%, from $27 billion in 1995 to $42 billion by the year 2000.
"There's an incredible interest in people taking better care of themselves," said Wisner, who points to changes in managed care and boomers' advancing age as primary factors behind the category's growth.
Among the retailers capitalizing on this trend, according to Wisner, are H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, which has introduced a medical clinic at one of its stores, and Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., which has a pharmaceutical care department that dispenses advice as well as prescriptions and produces a monthly health-related television show.
Northlake, Ill.-based Dominick's Finer Foods is one of several Chicago-area supermarkets that participate in the American Heart Association's CartSmart program, in which volunteer registered dietitians give lectures about heart-healthy eating and conduct supermarket tours.
According to Nancy Siler, Dominick's manager of consumer affairs and herself a registered dietitian, Dominick's hosts as many as five such tours per week, each with 10 to 20 participants. The focus is on food, but individual sessions may touch on health and beauty care if tour-takers ask.
"They want to ask very pointed questions directed at their own needs," said Siler.
Ginny Valkenburgh, vice president for research at Cannondale Associates, Wilton, Conn., reported that several chains are establishing health- and nutrition-oriented "solution centers," bringing together vitamins, herbs and nutritional supplements and positioning them near the pharmacy.
One notable example is Wal-Mart's One Source vitamin departments. Others include Corner Drugstore in the Hen House Market, owned by Balls Food Stores, Kansas City, Kan.; and Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, with its Albertson's Better Care centers.
Some retailers are creating natural-products solution centers as well, either as separate concepts or within other departments, including HBC. (Valkenburgh pointed to the success of health-food supermarkets such as Boulder, Colo.-based Wild Oats Markets and Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, as one impetus for this trend.)
Vendors are also introducing solution centers, according to Valkenburgh, including Gillette, with its Men's Grooming Center, and Warner-Lambert, with its Cough & Cold Relief Center. Johnson & Johnson has tested a women's grooming area in H-E-B, Vons and Wal-Mart stores.
Even without setting up whole-health sections, some supermarkets are targeting aging boomers simply by increasing their HBC selections, especially by adding age-defying products. New York-based researcher Packaged Facts reports that much of the 5% annual growth in skin care products is attributable to boomers' demand for anti-aging and sun care items, particularly those containing alphahydroxy acids and antioxidants, for which they are willing to pay a premium.
Areas of growth include wrinkle-fighting products, hair coloring, herbal and natural items, nutriceuticals (products that offer general nutrition as well as specific disease prevention), niche products like skin care items for around the eyes, and benefit-combining merchandise like skin care products containing SPF protection.
Packaged Facts estimates that sales of anti-aging products in supermarkets are growing at 12% per year, faster than in chain drug stores but slower than in mass merchandisers.
Another characteristic of this influential group is that it is "characteristically time-pressed and time-poor," said Peter Harding, vice president of Kurt Salmon Associates, Atlanta.
"There's such a premium on time," agreed Frank Conaway, president and chief executive officer of Orange, Calif.-based marketing firm Primelife. "[Boomers are] being stretched 15 different ways."
According to C. Britt Beemer, chief executive officer of America's Research Group, Charleston, S.C., research indicates that baby boomers would like to see two express lanes at normal store traffic times, one for fewer than 10 items and one for fewer than 20. At peak times, they want two of each.
Stores are reluctant to implement such changes. "They say to me, 'Do you know how much that's going to cost?' " Beemer said. "My response is, 'Do you know how many customers you have lost?'
"An improved signage program is critically important," he added, noting that signage helps consumers quickly identify what products a store carries and where they are located. "Many supermarkets lose sales because of noncompelling signage."
Harding said that, as boomers age, "clarity of signage and ease of access will become more important."
Retailers are increasingly adding services to enable boomers to complete many of their weekly chores in one stop. In addition to pharmacies, supermarkets now feature banks and financial-services companies, catering, dry cleaning, shoe repair, video rental, travel agencies, photoprocessing and other services.
But too many "fringe businesses" could dilute a store's image, Beemer cautioned. "It prevents you from making a statement. Consumers tell us that they don't associate these services with the supermarket."
Another outgrowth of boomers' desire for convenience is the emerging consumer-direct market. According to Valkenburgh, 200,000 households are currently buying groceries and related items on-line, but, with Internet usage doubling every 100 days, that figure is projected to rise to more than 15 million households by 2007.
Valkenburgh pointed to several chains, including Jewel; Safeway; Kroger's Columbus, Ohio, marketing area; Stop & Shop; Bruno's; and Tom Thumb, that are experimenting with electronic delivery programs, most through partnerships with consumer-direct specialists such as Evanston, Ill.-based Peapod. Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, is a rare example of a retailer overseeing its own consumer-direct program.