Food retailers continued to home in on health and wellness in 2011 by making nutrition rating systems available to all.
Shoppers filling a prescription in-store may have also noticed food merchandised in pharmacy as supermarkets paired food suggestions with specific disease states. In an even more personalized show of service, Bashas’ began printing customized food recommendations on the backs of prescription advisory sheets.
2011 may also be remembered as The Year of the Coupon. Redemption rates were on the rise, due in part to the “Extreme Couponing” reality show. But as viewers learned to match manufacturer coupons with items already on sale, Publix and Kroger set limits on the number of coupons that could be used in a single transaction.
Chains also presented shoppers with new ways to save. Big Y launched a fee-based loyalty club and the first Groupon deal and Safeway matched deals offered by competitors. Meanwhile, Stop & Shop went futuristic with its Scan It! mobile app, which rewards consumers for scanning groceries with personalized offers based on purchase history and location in the store.
Private label was also synonymous with savings, and not just for consumers. Retailers aimed to make the most of profits by consolidating banner brands under umbrella labels like Supervalu’s Everyday Essentials. A flair for promotion was also displayed during store-brand events like Safeway’s World’s Longest Picnic Table gathering.
Retailers broke with convention and made room for healthful foods in pharmacy and other new places in 2011. Shoppers who waited to have their prescriptions filled were the perfect subjects for lessons on foods that could help manage their specific disease state.
Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. displayed fare with high fiber, low sodium and disease-preventing properties to initiate pharmacist/consumer interaction. Bashas’ reinforced lessons by printing customized food recommendations on the backs of prescription advisory sheets.
The personalization helped in-store pharmacies stand out at a time when large pharmacy benefit management companies like Medco and Express Scripts (ESI) planned to merge, and others formed partnerships with major drug chains.
Though reimbursements and gross profits for in-store pharmacies suffered, all was not rosy for the competition. Mail order prescription profitability for PBMs declined as the cost of postage increased. And when negotiations between Walgreens and ESI fell apart, almost 8,000 pharmacies were eliminated from PBM’s network. With no near term resolution in sight, Schnucks Pharmacies ramped up staff and services to meet the needs of displaced customers.
Retailers also supported health in parts of the store traditionally occupied by sugary snacks. Hy-Vee piloted checkouts stocked with foods consumed in so-called Blue Zones — places in the world where inhabitants are longest-living and happiest.
Launching the project was a challenge since contracts entitle certain brands to the space, but well worth the effort according to harried moms who didn’t mind their little ones asking for soy nuts, apples, oranges, carrots, yogurt and skim milk.
Voluntary guidelines for foods appropriate to market to children were debated by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and others who called for the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children to withdraw proposed principles that would limit marketing of some healthy foods like vegetable juices, soups and yogurt. GMA favored new guidelines from the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a program of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The standards that would take effect Jan. 1, 2014, establish specific limits for calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and total sugars.
More consumers were aided by nutrition labeling systems in 2011. A Harvard School of Public Health study found that people who eat food with more favorable NuVal scores have a lower risk of chronic disease and better chance of living longer. Tops Friendly Markets, King Kullen, Scolaris Food & Drug, King Soopers, Raley’s and Lowe’s Foods brought NuVal to shelves. While others, like upscale grocer Langenstein’s, Marsh Supermarkets and even some school districts opted for Guiding Stars.
The Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Examination of Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols also favored a system based on zero to three nutritional rating points. It recommended a move away from “systems that mostly provide nutrition information without clear guidance about its healthfulness.”
GMA, who in concert with the Food Marketing Institute launched the Facts Up Front nutrition labeling system in January, maintained that consumers prefer to be equipped with nutritional facts so they can make their own decisions. GMA and FMI are planning a $50 million consumer education campaign for Facts Up Front. The system highlights calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar per serving, daily value percentages for saturated fat and sodium, plus up to two icons showing “nutrients to be encouraged,” such as fiber and vitamins.