Those bearing the whole-health standard are "beginning to realize the process is a continuum," said Roy White, vice president of education for the General Merchandise Distributors Council. "There's a lot of searching and retailers are starting to understand there isn't just one way of doing it," he explained. "You can do a lot or as little or various pieces of it in very different ways. Some may emphasize natural, others may focus on creating an image for the entire store, still others will focus on pharmacy."
The Colorado Springs, Colo.-based association first planted the seeds for whole health with the release two years ago of "Do-It-Yourself-Health," a study that tracked the trend of consumers taking charge of their health and well-being. The study found that supermarkets, while providing a natural shopping environment to satisfy those in pursuit of healthy living, were underdeveloped in capturing their share of an emerging market. This was especially true in the four product segments of concentration -- health-enhancing foods, over-the-counter medications, supplements and natural remedies, and self-care devices.
Last year, the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, and the GMDC delivered a joint report formulating the whole-health concept with best practices at retail. That study also added the component of pharmacy, missing from the initial proposition.
Now in its third year, whole health will continue to be explored for opportunities. A second education conference, co-sponsored by the FMI and the GMDC, is tentatively set to take place June 17 and 18 in Chicago. That meeting will try to answer a number of questions raised by participants attending a Whole Health Solutions Summit Conference held late last year.
According to White, some issues brought up at a roundtable session that he chaired during the summit ranged from appointing a champion within the organization to carry the whole-health banner to fostering interdepartmental cooperation.
Notes from the various roundtables held during the summit meeting will be available to FMI members on its Web site at the end of next month, said Meredith Eriksen, the FMI's manager of education.
The FMI also will key this year's annual FMI Pharmacy Conference, April 18 to 20 in Baltimore, on whole health. The theme -- "Supermarket Pharmacy: Creating a Whole-Health Environment" -- is being stressed "at the bequest of my committee," said Laurie Gethin, FMI's manager of pharmacy services. "They see it as an excellent opportunity to differentiate pharmacy practice in supermarkets in terms of patient care and tie-ins with disease management and healthy eating and nutrition," she said.
The keynote session will feature speakers Bill Bishop, president of Willard Bishop Consulting, and Lawrence Kaagan, president of Kaagan Research Associates. Bishop authored the two whole-health related studies. An idea exchange will have retailers discussing how to link pharmacy into whole-health solutions. Other sessions will focus on opportunities for patient-focused care in today's supermarket and how to choose the best herbal products for the store.
The FMI sees the whole-health concept in its beginning stages and as an evolving process. "It isn't just about vitamins, health and beauty care or pharmacy," said Eriksen. "It includes foods specifically designed to be healthy and foods that are naturally good for you. Only supermarkets can offer these all under one roof. We can own this category," she added.
"There is no cookie-cutter approach. You'll see companies doing a lot of pilots by starting small and then trying to branch out by finding out what works before they implement on a large scale," said Gethin. "It's an ongoing process."
Cheryl Bottger, who was with Nature's Northwest, is now director of marketing and new product development for HealthNotes Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based company that supplies an interactive informational kiosk on natural remedies and nutritional supplements. HealthNotes is actively involved in the industry's whole-health program. She said that "whole health is the next big wave of initiatives for the grocery industry." The company has been retained by the FMI to put together a retail manual focusing on the nutritional aspects of whole health, said Skye Lininger, HealthNotes' president.
Going forward, Bottger said, the industry will be implementing whole-health solutions and attempting to "define the core piece of information that begins to drive the program across different categories."
White of the GMDC predicts that in 1999 "more companies will be set up to establish a whole-health marketing program and those already doing it will begin to modify their programs."
But many of the majors and smaller players in the industry began last year to experiment with how they can better meet consumers' desires for better health. As the supermarket industry knows all too well, it is not alone in this pursuit. Wal-Mart continues to develop its OneSource Nutrition Center concept as a fully integrated solution and the chain drug-store industry has been testing a "Well Worth It" marketing approach to increase its front-end business.