Retailers may need to adapt new selling techniques for today's health and wellness shoppers
The changes occurring in consumers' approach to health and wellness are subtle yet significant for grocery retailers attempting to brand themselves as a whole health resource.
SN interviewed a number of researchers and consultants, many of whom have been involved in and followed the whole health movement over the last decade, about what changes they see driving consumers in their pursuit of wellness and how shoppers define it today.
All agree what began more than 20 years ago with the first studies, produced by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC) and Food Marketing Institute, on whole health shoppers has hit critical mass with all shoppers aware of the benefits of pursuing healthy lifestyles. The majority are aware there is a direct correlation in health and the foods they eat — what they put into their bodies — as well as what they put on their bodies and what's in the surrounding environment.
Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill., mentions Seattle, where the natural-organic food movement coalesced for many. “Whereas you had to go to Seattle to find people doing healthy things. Now it is everywhere. … We are in the ramp-up phase,” he said.
Chris Depetris, GMDC director of education and wellness programs, Colorado Springs, pointed to a shift in consumer viewpoints in health and wellness revealed in GMDC's second-phase research on “Consumer Shopping Habits for Wellness and Environmentally Conscious Lifestyles.”
The shift in shopper viewpoints has progressed from taking control of one's personal health and that of their families to something more all encompassing. “Currently, we are continuing to witness another underlying motivation emerge: Consumers are reclaiming control over their health and wellness in order to achieve ‘quality life experiences,’” he said in an online statement.
Laurie Demeritt, president and chief operating officer of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., which conducted GMDC's latest research, said the definition of health and wellness has broadened. In 2007, for example, a majority of consumers defined wellness as “not being ill.” Today, the top definition for 74% of consumers is “feeling good about myself,” followed by “being physically fit,” for 73%. “Not being ill” has slid down to No. 3 for 67% of consumers.
The shift in consumer views on health and wellness is not centered just on the physical. “It's also the emotional, the spiritual, the mental. … It's more integrative and much more proactive. It is not just about treatment. It is about preventing things,” Demeritt said.
“Consumers are using prevention as a first line of defense,” said Susan Viamari, editor of Times & Trends, SymphonyIRI Group, Chicago. She said that consumers have also become more self-reliant during the last several years, noting that this self-reliance is partly attributable to the recession and partly attributable to new products that have increased consumers' ability to take care of themselves.
FRESH, CLEAN APPEAL
Hartman's 2010 study “Reimagining Health & Wellness” says more than ever consumers view “fresh, real and clean” food as the foundation for health and wellness. It is viewed as the first step to treating and preventing disease, supporting vitality and mental energy. This has implications for food retailers and even for what's on the ingredient label panels. Demeritt noted consumers are looking at ingredient panels and making sure it is a short list with familiar ingredients they recognize. “There is a base line that everything can be as fresh and real and clean as it can be.”
These desired attributes in food have implications for other nonfood categories such as personal care, household cleaning, vitamin supplements and over-the-counter medications as well.
“We think personal care and household cleaning are the next go-to category for health and wellness,” said Demeritt.
Hartman research indicates that 43% of consumers believe personal care products being “non-toxic” is important; 33% said they believe cleaners being “natural” is important.
This ties in to how the personal and environmental health intersect.
“The migration from conventional to more ‘natural’ products signals a growing awareness of physical wellness beyond just food and exercise. It also reflects a broader consideration of things that influence health, from things not only in the body, but also on and around the body,” the Hartman study stated.
The desire for fresh, real and clean may be impacting how consumers view and use supplements and OTCs as well.
“In aggregate, a lot of consumers are saying they'd like to move from supplement usage to food usage because they have some concerns about bioavailability and the quality of the nutrients. Maybe it is better in food because that is more real. Consumers are starting to say they are getting more concerned about how much OTC medications they are taking because maybe they want to cut down on it and find other ways to solve some of their health conditions. They are concerned about what is in the medications and if they take a lot of it, it could be harmful,” Demeritt mentioned.
Wisner said that product safety concerns over recent recalls — the most notable being that of McNeil Consumer Healthcare's various recalls on its OTC products this year — is driving health and wellness shoppers to look for alternatives. In this case, the beneficiary is private-label alternatives, according to Wisner.
Bill Schneider, senior product director, Aisle7, Portland, Ore., a health and wellness content media provider that developed Healthnotes, said sustainability is a main trend shaping health and wellness shoppers' buying decisions today. “This is being defined along multiple dimensions. One part is to buy foods that are local and focus on whole foods. A second is to look a layer deeper and understand how foods are developed — what pesticides are they using, what fertilizers, and animal rights considerations,” he said.
The shift that is occurring from reactive to proactive health is reflective in the media where healthy living has become a major topic. “Oprah, Dr. Oz, Dr. Weil, New York Times regularly provide health and wellness tips and guidelines on what foods to look for, what to avoid. … In general, the media has increased shopper awareness of how the products consumers buy have a direct impact into their long-term health. This is a great opportunity for innovative retailers, as shoppers are looking to substantiate information they are hearing from different news sources and need validation at the shelf,” said Schneider.
It's no surprise that the Internet has emerged as a top disseminator of health and wellness information for consumers. Fifty-eight percent of consumers surveyed by Hartman listed the Internet as their most commonly used information source. This was followed by doctors for 49% of consumers seeking health and wellness information.
“People who focus on eating healthy are turning increasingly to the Internet and in some instances to e-commerce to satisfy those options. … The importance of this for supermarkets is to have the same information and search capabilities that you have on some e-commerce sites,” said Bill Bishop, chairman of Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill.
“We live in the information economy,” noted Schneider. “Consumers are changing the way they interact with retailers and brands. They have a lot more control over the information flow than they have in years past. With the click of the mouse or a touch of their phone, they can switch their attention to your competitor. The retailers that are investing in new technologies to reach consumers are going to be in the lead in the long run.”
One such retailer, which uses Aisle7's expertise, is Wakefern Food Corp. Karen Meleta, a spokeswoman for the Keasbey, N.J.-based co-op, told SN its “Live Right with ShopRite” shelf labeling program has broadened since its launch in 2005. “It includes consumer education on the general category of health and wellness, such as creating lower-calorie meals, ‘Right for Tonight,’ a dietitian's pick where we identify foods and meals with high nutritional content and lower calories and fat. It's just overall sensible eating healthy and good choices.”
Wakefern has grown the number of dietitians, who service stores in three states with personalized in-store consulting services and community outreach, to 15. “Our retail dietitian program with one-on-one personal contact and advice from a professional is an incredible service and we get great feedback on it,” Meleta said.
Such consumer engagement will be key in winning future shoppers. “Consumers believe their health concerns are special and unique, so it has to be customized,” said Demeritt.