DALLAS — Supermarket shoppers define convenience in many ways, but wellness-minded consumers especially look at a product's message, ingredients and label, according to a panel of experts speaking at the Healthy Foods International Exposition and Conference here.
“We're all about fuel,” said Jason Brown, chief executive officer, Organic to Go, a catering company that also operates a chain of stand-alone cafes. “We believe organic food gives your body the opportunity to be in a better place.”
The food industry has struggled to introduce new products that are both convenient to prepare and healthful to eat. Success stories can be found in key categories, such as frozen foods, the dairy aisle and fresh meals. Yet many consumers remain unaware of the choices currently available, because they still have difficulty associating convenience with health.
“Food is one of the pinnacles of health. You can't go to a pill bottle. You have to eat right, exercise and make the right lifestyle choices,” observed David Gentile, a physician on Long Island, N.Y., who emphasizes diet and lifestyle in treating illnesses.
Organic to Go recently developed a line of thin-crust pizzas that are all organic, from the crust to the toppings. Brown said the immediate popularity of the item proves to him that even health-minded consumers want to eat regular food.
“People are normal,” he said. “They like hamburgers, they like tacos and they like pizza.”
Organic to Go was eager to add pizza to the menu, since such choices can attract mainstream customers who otherwise might be put off by the company's organic designation, said Brown, adding that it doesn't hurt that pizza is a $32 billion business — testament to its universal appeal.
While just about everyone knows pizza — crust, sauce, cheese and toppings — interpreting labels and understanding the properties of healthful ingredients may not be as simple a matter. This is an area where retailers can be particularly effective, said Gentile.
“As retailers, you can help bridge the gap of confusion,” he said. “It's not hard: Healthy ingredients, healthy cooking, portion control and a good lifestyle all lead toward better health.”
Supermarkets can intercept whole health shoppers at several points during a store visit. Retailers can provide shopping guides for special-needs diets inside the front door, host ongoing events on the floor, offer health services in the pharmacy or even just place information strategically throughout the aisles.
“Very few people really know how much they should be eating on a daily basis, based on weight, height, size and genetic disposition,” said consultant Marcia Schurer, president of Culinary Connections, Chicago.
The panelists said offering options, supporting by information, is the best way to serve both the conventional and the wellness customer.
“We're not a rocket science company,” said Brown. “We just cook food that's organic, that's really convenient for people, and really delicious.”