3 Mistakes Grocery Stores Make in Courting Health-Seekers

Transparency is more crucial than ever
Produce shopping
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Not everyone's crazy for keto, and both "whole-grain" and "grain-free" carry label cachet with today's of-divergent-minds consumers. But one thing that today's health-seeking U.S. shoppers have in common is a growing expectation that they'll be able to find the information they seek—in-stores and online—about not only a product's ingredients and nutrition profile but also how the item was made and who made it.

Consumers want to know, "What have they taken away, and then what have they fortified it with or put in it?" said Sally Lyons Wyatt, EVP for Chicago-based market researcher IRI, in an IRI and FMI—The Food Industry Association webinar on capturing health and wellness shoppers. Increasingly, they're also keen on knowing more from producers about how animals were treated and/or the farming methods used in sourcing ingredients for an item.

Ultimately, they want confidence that an item they're considering buying is one they can feel good about, based on the information they were able to find about it—and a better choice than other available options that didn't meet their health standards or that didn't provide the information they sought.

With that in mind, retailers can position themselves to better connect with health-seeking shoppers and win customer loyalty in a more competitive than ever environment by avoiding a few key missteps.

Mistake No. 1: Not giving them the information they want.

Making nutrition data and sourcing information easily accessible is especially crucial for retailers looking to connect with Gen Z and a growing number of online grocery shoppers, Lyons Wyatt and fellow panelists Jonna Parker, principal with IRI, and Rick Stein, VP of fresh for FMI, noted. Throughout the pandemic, 14% of households have turned to e-commerce as their primary channel for buying groceries, IRI found, and 83% of online grocery shoppers expect to buy groceries online at least as much as they're doing now even after they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or pandemic-related restrictions are lifted.

And it's not just younger consumers clicking their way through their shopping list: As The Washington Post reported in January, the NPD Group found that from January through October 2020, consumers age 65 and older were the fastest-growing group of online shoppers. Older health-seeking consumers often are following dietary recommendations provided by their doctor, and label claims such as "AHA Heart Healthy" (No. 5 on IRI's list of growth-driving claims for produce, ranked by dollar growth year over year) may resonate especially strongly with these shoppers.

But whatever health-seeking consumers' age and whatever the specific health claims they're attuned to, nutrition and ingredient information and anything else that helps tell the story about how a product was produced needs to be as easily accessible online as it is for a customer who's physically picking up the item and examining it in store, webinar panelists suggested.

Mistake No. 2: Not leveraging social media, where health-seekers are especially active.

In addition, retailers should consider expanding their social-media presence and connecting with influencers on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram to help tell their health and wellness-focused stories, panelists said. Showcasing how fresh and prepared options can help busy consumers—consumers who may be going back to the office, or who have kids heading to school or summer camps in person, or who are resuming more of their pre-pandemic in-person activities—get healthful meals on the table quickly can be a powerful tool in building baskets, Lyons Wyatt said. That can take the form of promoting easy-prepare center-plate proteins alongside frozen or prepared sides that boast claims of being low-carb, rich in antioxidants or containing a serving of vegetables, for example.

"If we’re going to keep consumers going into CPG and cooking in their home and buying in our stores, time is now to get a bit more specific about benefits of fresh and how we can get that meal on the table conveniently but healthfully," she said. And retailers don't have to wait for consumers to head into their stores, visit their website or open their mobile app to reach out to them to tell these stories: Talking to them where they are on social media can be an effective way to provide the kind of creative meal inspiration that can inspire purchases. "Consumers are wanting excitement … almost a love with the foods that they’re eating," said Lyons Wyatt.

Forty-four percent of U.S. consumers read food and beverage labels, IRI found, and two-thirds (66%) of consumers identify as following a specific diet or eating approach, such as keto, paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan. When it comes to health and wellness, "claims are resonating across a variety of themes," Lyons Wyatt said. Retailers can win consumer trust by calling out in online channels that the store has the (national brand or private-label) keto-friendly, gluten-free or plant-based items they're looking for.

Mistake No. 3: Becoming complacent about existing health messaging.

Been there, doing that? It can be easy for a retailer to become complacent about its existing efforts to target health-seekers, but amid heightened competition in the fresh space, it's a danger to do so, said Lyons Wyatt. "Retailers may think, 'We've been doing all this,' " she said. However, she continued, it's important to remember that there are new consumers coming into or stepping further into the health-seeking category amid the COVID-19 pandemic—consumers who still could benefit from explanations of what specific health, wellness and animal-welfare claims mean, and how various fresh foods can help support physical and mental health. 

Winning with health and wellness today, Lyons Wyatt noted, is "about connecting with consumers who care most about health, understanding them more deeply and not assuming one size fits all."



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