Grocers rearrange stores to better position healthy foods, FMI survey finds

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Food Marketing Institute
Source: Food Marketing Institute

Related tags: Products, Nutrition

As consumers’ understanding of food as a health management tool expands, retailers nationwide are changing how they stock and promote products to better drive sales and be considered a wellness destination, a recent survey reveals. 

“Over the past year, there has been a shift in the strategies retailers use to help consumers identify products. Specifically, there has been a significant increase in identifying wellness products by lifestyle”​ such as vegan and kosher, according to the Food Marketing Institute’s survey: Food Retailer Contributions to Health and Wellness​. 

Of the 29 store-chains representing more than 6,800 stores nationwide that responded to FMI’s survey in November and December 2014, 62% said they group foods for designated lifestyles in specific aisles. This is up from 35% in 2013.

“At the same time, there has been a significant decrease in identifying products according to the health conditions they benefit,”​ such as gluten intolerance and diabetes, the report found, noting 67% of respondents identify foods in a designated aisle according to condition in 2014, down from 82% in 2013.

“However, directly placing alternative healthful products​ [such as reduced sodium] next to original versions continues to be a growing strategy”​ that was employed by 76% of retailers in 2014 compared to 59% in 2013, according to the report.

These changes in stocking reflect what consumers want and will make it easier for them to navigate stores to find products that meet their needs, said Laurel Mintz, founder and CEO of Elevate My Brand. But whether this rearranging also helps brands cut through the clutter and catch consumers’ eyes will depend on how saturated the category is, she said.

Grouping products together like this can build awareness of a category or claim as a whole, but it also can blur distinctions between individual products in a category, making it difficult for consumers to differentiate between brands’ competing products, she explained.

“You still have to pop off the shelf,”​ so packaging needs to be appealing and clearly communicate the product’s story, Mintz said.

Health buzz words are on more shelf talkers

Retailers also more often are calling out on store shelves products that meet specific health and wellness buzz words, the survey found. For example, 90% of retailers noted on shelves gluten-free products in 2014 compared to 83% in 2013. Retailers that use callouts for organic also are up 14 percentage points to 81% as is the number of retailers highlighting low-sodium products, which is up 17 percentage points to 50% during the same period.

A 39 percentage point jump to 67% of retailers noting sugar-free products in 2014 is in line with recent dietary guideline recommendations to reduce sugar. Other claims, however, are a bit more surprising. For example, from 2013 to 2014, retailers pointing our products that are lactose free climbed 31 percentage points to 48% and retailers with fat-free indicators rose 29 percentage points to 57%.

While this can draw attention to specific products, food and beverage manufacturers should not rely on retailers to communicate these attributes, cautioned Mintz. She explained that because not all retailers will use shelf-talkers and the specific claims they call out will change over time, brands till need to clearly state their claims on their packages.

In store programs drive consumer decisions

Retailers also are directing consumers to healthier foods through a variety of health and wellness programs, the third annual survey revealed.

It found all retailers offer healthy recipes and product samples, 95% hold cooking demonstrations, 90% feature end caps promoting healthy-for-you choices and 52% have candy-free check-out lanes.

Not all changes at grocers are as healthy for food and beverage brands as for the store’s general traffic and consumers’ well-being, though.

For example, while 95% of stores employ dieticians at the corporate, regional and store level, how these professionals follow up with consumers after they participate in a store nutrition program is changing, the survey found.

“Specifically, recommendations have doubled for encouragement to get a health screening at the pharmacy or in-store clinic. However, there has been a precipitous drop in the amount of coupons offered for healthy foods in the store or information offered on other nutrition and wellness programs,”​ according to the report.  

Only 58% of retailers offered health food coupons in the store in 2014 after in-store nutrition programs compared to 72% in 2013. Extra information about other nutrition programs fell to 47% of retailers in 2014 compared to 67% in 2013, the survey said.

Positive trends

On the bright side for food and beverage manufacturers, virtually all stores offer consumers tours to find products that fit their needs. The two most popular tours offered at 90% of stores are for diabetes and healthy eating and 85% of the tours are led by registered dietitians or pharmacy staff, the survey said.

The other good news is 74% of retailers offer cooking classes to consumers, which can indirectly drive product sales by exposing consumers to new products.

“In addition to cooking classes, 63% of stores also provide weight management classes for adults,”​ and 84% actively promote communal eating, the report said. 

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