PALM DESERT, Calif. -- Nearly half of today's grocery shoppers, 49%, go into supermarkets seeking health and nutritional information, according to the "Shopping for Health Study 1999," conducted by Prevention Magazine and the Food Marketing Institute, Washington.
Preliminary results of the eighth annual study were released here during a roundtable discussion involving retailers and wholesalers. They discussed how the industry's whole-health marketing initiative could be better fostered through the dissemination of health-related information in the store. The final study will be available within the next two weeks.
The roundtable was sponsored by Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pa., and organized and conducted by Glenn Snyder, president of Snyder Consulting, Mamaroneck, N.Y. The session took place on the kickoff day of the General Merchandise Distributors Council's GM Marketing Conference, also held here May 21 to 26. This year's GMDC conference drew a slightly lower attendance than last year, approximately 1,100 people, due in part to a reversal in dates from September to June, and the fact that the International Mass Retail Association held its annual convention during the same period, said GMDC executives.
This is the second year that the Prevention study has examined the self care movement. The results, not surprisingly, show a steady increase in people taking vitamins and herbal remedies before they choose conventional medicines, 34% this year vs. 28% a year ago.
Ed Slaughter, Prevention's market research director, outlined the social factors driving the self care movement. One fact that stands out is that by age 55 consumers are spending more on medical care services than they are on food. Self care has grown out of consumers' efforts to take control of their health and the rising costs associated with health care, said Slaughter.
Therefore, shopping decisions based on self care are being transferred to the food side as well, with 54% saying they purchase foods for their health benefits.
Even though over half the respondents go into stores seeking healthy foods, most shoppers don't know what the terms functional foods or nutraceuticals mean, according to the survey. Only 24% said they understood the term functional foods, and 10% said they knew what nutraceuticals are.
Such lack of understanding demonstrates that although consumer demand is strong for healthy products, there also is a great need for information about what health benefits such products offer.
Said Roy White, GMDC's vice president for education, "One of the best practices of whole health is educating the consumer. It's been our feeling that magazines should play a more central role on health issues."
The study showed that most shoppers, nearly 70%, get their health and nutrition information from magazines and books. This was followed by display/handouts, 37%; the pharmacist, 32%; nutritionist, 27%; Internet, 21%; and store employee, 18%.
The potential for supermarkets to capitalize on consumers' needs in self care is big. Slaughter pointed to statistics from last year's survey that showed a $214 million gap between total sales of OTCs, prescription drugs, vitamins, herbals, homeopathy and home tests and supermarkets' share of sales of those categories.
"The demographics of the self-care movement are here to stay and are long lasting," he said. "Whole health is supermarkets' response to self care and if the grocery industry can't organize and execute this, then shoppers will go somewhere else for these products," Slaughter told SN.