FMI: Grocery stores become ‘an accessible destination for health and wellbeing'

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - 	Goodboy Picture Company
Image Credit: Getty Images - Goodboy Picture Company

Related tags FMI food as medicine Healthy eating

Food companies and retailers increasingly are leaning on the expertise of dietitians and medical professionals to support their nutrition, health, and wellbeing initiatives, FMI -- The Food Industry Association shared in a recent report.

“The grocery store is indeed becoming an increasingly important and accessible destination for health and wellbeing in the community, providing everything from feeding assistance to preventive care, nutrition, guidance, and all while helping customers shop for and prepare nourishing practical meal solutions for themselves and their families. The industry, and particularly the grocery store, is continuously working to meet consumer demand for nutrition and health and wellbeing services in order to positively impact food purchasing decisions, both online and in-store,” Krystal Register, FMI senior director for health & well-being, shared during a webinar. 

“Registered dietitians have a seat at the leadership table”

In an Oct. 2023 survey of 36 food retailers and supplies that represent 11,000 stores in the US, FMI found​ that 70% of respondents had nutrition, health, and well-being strategies, including 84% of food retailers.

Most (82%) companies employed registered dietitians (RDNs) to inform their nutrition, health, and well-being strategies, with 71% of them operating at the corporate level. Additionally, 36% of food retailers employed registered nurses, 14% hired nurse practitioners, and 14% had medical doctors on their staff. 

“We see that registered dietitians have a seat at the leadership table for many of the responding companies in the food industry. And this gives registered dietitian nutritionists the opportunity to play key roles when it comes to overall strategy, and we see they have positions that cover the breadth of nutrition strategy in general, marketing, communication efforts, regulatory and labeling issues, food safety, e-commerce, and digital merchandising," Register said.

RDNs often collaborate with medical professionals - 33% of RDNs said they work with nurses and 17% with doctors - as well as culinary professionals to develop meal solutions and health and well-being initiatives. 

“Another impactful way that registered dietitians are working collaboratively is by working directly with culinary professionals to advise on nutrition and healthy eating. More than half of the responding food industry companies now state that they employ a chef or culinary professional at that corporate level, and 79% of dietitians say they're working with that culinary team to develop recipes based on health and well-being criteria” Register said. 

From store shelf to product reformulation: Food-as-medicine programs are a focus

Nutrition, health, and well-being teams also increasingly prioritize food-as-medicine programs through in-store marketing efforts and consumer education. Most (90%) food companies feature nutritional messaging in their communal eating promotions, and 75% are promoting communal eating, like family meals, to support healthy eating. 

Nearly all (96%) of the survey respondents use path-to-purchase marketing like signs, displays, media promotions, and nutrition-attribute labeling to promote healthy eating. Additionally, 83% said that they offer educational classes, store tours, health screenings, and employee wellness programs, while 65% offer incentive programs through coupons, vouchers, rebates, and discounted pricing to encourage the purchase of healthy foods. 

Food companies and retailers are also reducing sugar and sodium and fortifying products with beneficial nutrients, Register noted. 

Most of the companies surveyed (80%) are already or planning to reformulate products with 55% cutting added sugar or sodium. Cereals, frozen vegetables, breads, sweet baked goods, and center-store private-label brands are among the top reformulated categories mentioned in the survey. 

What role do regulations, private-insurance companies play? 

Regulations can be a crucial part in ensuring that everyone has access to healthy and nutritious foods, and private insurance companies are starting to deploy health benefit cards to consumers, Jennifer Hatcher, chief public policy officer and senior VP of government and member relations at FMI, shared during the webinar. 

In the report, FMI outlined regulations that are advancing health and well-being initiatives, including USDA's Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Program for Children (Summer EBT); the Women, Infants and Child (WIC) Program; and the Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) Act. 

Summer EBT provides low-income families $40 per child, per month for three months when schools are closed during summer break. Currently, 35 states participate, and 21m children could benefit from the program, Hatcher said. 

When it comes to WIC, consumers can purchase $28-$47 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables a month, she explained. Additionally, the MNT Act "increases access to counseling by registered dietitian nutritionist for Medicare beneficiaries to help prevent and delay and manage a number of chronic disease and diet-related medical conditions," she added. 

Some private health insurance companies have started to issue healthy benefit cards, where consumers can purchase healthy foods with a card. Nearly half (46%) of survey respondents accept healthy benefit cards, and 14% said they plan to accept them in the next year, Hatcher said. 

“We are engaged in ongoing efforts in this area to better determine how stores that want to accept these cards and benefits can do so. These programs are also tremendously important from both a hunger and food security perspective as well as nutrition,” Hatcher said.  

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