If you're a food retailer today, health and wellness is certainly on your radar and very possibly a major initiative. If not, you risk being labeled out of touch.
But in reality, many food retailers, including some independents, are expressing reservations.
At last week's National Grocers Association Annual Convention in Las Vegas, a panel of independent retailers cited challenges to operating in the wellness space, including these:
• Consumers are confused over conflicting definitions of what's healthy.
• Many shoppers show more interest in localthan health marketing.
• Retailers risk overloading consumers if they incorporate too much in-store health education.
However, these hurdles pale in comparison to another one cited: Many consumers just aren't interested in buying healthy products, period.
“Health is often about a change of lifestyle, but even in our community, which has an aging population, we're not seeing it,” said one panelist, Cheryl Sommer, president, Kaune's Neighborhood Market, Santa Fe, N.M.
Jimmy Nichols, senior executive at Houchens Industries, Bowling Green, Ky., a second panelist, observed, “Health and wellness is an opportunity, but we must balance the offering with the true demand. There's a lot of awareness, but not a lot of willingness [among shoppers].”
You might say these insights aren't unique to independents vs. other retailers. Maybe so, but the complexity is greater for independents. These grocers have a harder time making investments in health programs, and they often don't get the manufacturer support they need.
“There's a true cost to execute these programs,” said Roger Lowe Jr., chief executive officer, Lowe's Market, Littlefield, Texas, who was also on the panel. “A lot of costs get lumped onto independents. I like the idea of relying on the manufacturer side because they are the ones who are educated about their products.”
Let's applaud retailers who speak honestly about this topic, because we need a “healthy” debate here. You can read more about this panel in this Page 1 story from SN's Feb. 21 issue. By the way, the session was moderated by Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru, who is contributing editor of SN. Also participating was Peter Larkin, who oversaw his first convention — an energetic one — as NGA's new president and CEO.
The industry needs to support independents that are motivated to make big statements around trends such as health and wellness. But not all retailers will choose this direction. Independents are all about local marketing and connecting to communities, but beyond that, each pursues its own niches, which may or may not include wellness.
If not, an independent is probably OK with being labeled out of touch with a national trend. Because more important is being in touch with local demand.