BELLEVUE, Wash. — Consumers concerned about heart health make a strong connection to supermarkets when they think about leading a “heart-healthy lifestyle,” a recent Hartman Group study shows.
“We've been tracking health and wellness for two decades, and one particular trend that keeps showing up is that eating right equates with a heart-healthy lifestyle,” said Blaine Becker, The Hartman Group's director of marketing/communications.
And “eating right” means eating fresh food — fruits, vegetables, seafood — he added. “There has been a large-scale consumer exodus from packaged foods toward fresh products.”
In the group's report, “Heart Health From a Consumer Perspective,” released last month, researchers also point out that 58% of respondents said they are changing their lifestyles in an effort to protect and care for their hearts. In particular, they said they're seeking out more and more fresh products and moving away from fat, salt and sugar.
A full 65% of respondents in a survey of a cross-section of consumers indicated they are concerned about heart health, and they named supermarkets in their areas that they feel help them stay on a heart-healthy path.
“That 65% of respondents who were heart-health concerned was somewhat of a surprise to us. We had thought it might be about 50-50 [concerned, versus not concerned or not very concerned],” said Becker.
“That percentage may reflect the increasing number of Boomers, who aspire to a healthy and long life,” he added.
But it's not a surprise that natural supermarkets and traditional supermarkets were top of mind when consumers were asked where they can look for help in leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, Becker said.
“They make an association with diet and nutrition, so there is a high awareness of fresh foods [as a help in staying heart-healthy],” he said.
When asked an open-ended question about which retailers came to mind, the largest number named Whole Foods Market. A surprising second was Wal-Mart. That, it was suggested, may have had more to do with the chain's health care departments and its walk-in clinics than with its produce and other fresh food departments, researchers theorized.
Next in line was GNC, the vitamin and supplement chain, and then Trader Joe's, Wild Oats, Safeway, Kroger, Publix and Meijer.
In another part of the survey, respondents were given a list of 10 categories of retail channels to choose from when asked which is most equipped to offer assistance to consumers in their attempts to live a heart-healthy lifestyle. When they chose from that list, traditional supermarkets came in fourth behind drug stores. Natural supermarkets such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats took first place, and specialty stores such as Trader Joe's came in second.
Other retail channels on the list were discount stores, discount supercenters, club stores, dollar stores, convenience stores and bookstores.
Becker pointed out that respondents' attention to diet and nutrition and their relationship to supermarkets and natural supermarkets was a key finding in the survey, which was conducted online with 616 consumers cutting across all age groups and income levels.
“Heart health is a broad term, yet we are seeing a large segment of Americans thinking in similar ways in terms of how they can live a lifestyle they consider to be more healthy from a cardiovascular perspective,” said Laurie Demeritt, Hartman Group president and chief operating officer, in a statement that accompanied the research findings.
“One key component of this thinking is the level of importance placed on fresh products and the avoidance of ingredients deemed to be detrimental to one's heart health, such as fat, salt and sugar,” Demeritt said.
“This view of the role fresh plays in heart-healthy lifestyles has a direct impact on how consumers approach and ultimately decide on which retailers and restaurants to shop and what products to purchase.”
The Hartman Group researchers point out that American Medical Association data seem to support the notion that there's a tremendous potential market among American adults who are looking to buy foods that are heart-healthy. In fact, it is estimated that more than 71 million of them are diagnosed with one or more types of cardiovascular disease, and one in three adult men and women have some form of cardiovascular disease.
With those numbers as a backdrop, researchers point out that more than three out of every four American consumers purchase some products on an infrequent basis because of their heart-health benefits.
What's more, the heart-health-concerned respondents tended to be in a higher income group. The 35% who were not concerned or just “a bit concerned” were younger and in households with an annual income of $20,000 or less.