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Poll: Help Shoppers Shop Better

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Judy Dodd, a registered dietitian who works with Giant Eagle Supermarkets, is one of our frequent contributors here on the blog. You might notice that her entries have a consistent refrain stressing all the different ways retailers can creatively merchandise basic, healthful foods.

Why the repetition? Because that’s where the wellness business is these days. The days of simply putting products on shelves and watching them sell out are over. With the recession lingering for many households, it’s as if a giant pause button has been pushed. Now, these same consumers are reading labels, sticking to the tried-and true health foods and shunning anything that smacks of a fad.

The anecdotal behavior is confirmed in the Grocery Shopper Trends 2010 report from the Food Marketing Institute. The annual report shows that the American consumer is “weathering the economy and is now a dedicated deal seeker at the supermarket.”

The survey, published with support from PepsiCo, found that shoppers have a real preference for home-cooked meals, and that they assemble these meals though the use of comparison shopping, store selection, brand preference and coupons

“They choose to save money by eating at home but they also believe, overwhelmingly, that the food they eat at home is healthier than eating away from home,” notes Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI president and CEO.

Indeed, while saving money is the main reason consumer say they’re eating at home, nine in 10 also believe the food they prepare and eat at home is healthier than the choices they make when eating out.

Yet — and this is where dietitians like Judy Dodd come in with their marketing and education efforts — the number of shoppers who stated they take extra steps to try and eat healthy actually dropped this year, from 34% to 27%.

The other numbers went up: Those who say they make “just a little” effort to eat better or none at all rose from to 26% (from 18% in 2009); and nearly half (49%) conceded that their diet could be “somewhat healthier.” Even 13% admitted it could be “a lot healthier.”

Supermarkets remain in an ideal potsition to help consumers. They just have to remember to keep it simple and straightforward. The audience is already there, according to FMI. Some 80% of respondents readily say they understand that they themselves are responsible for their own diets.

There appear to be plenty of options for retail outreach, too. FMI’s research found that most shoppers educate themselves using a wide variety of sources including the internet (55%), magazines (35%), their doctor (34%), and friends and family (33%).

So, while the heyday of health and wellness might be over, a new door has opened that is just as important (perhaps even more so) as the boom years, when everyone was just getting acquainted with wellness. And because shoppers are buying with their hard-earned dollars, you know it’s important to them. That’s always been half the battle.

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