Reflecting shoppers’ increased focus on wellness, food retailers in the past year have made significant investments to expand their role as community destinations for health and well-being, finds FMI–The Food industry Association’s recent report, 2021 Retailer Contributions to Health and Well-Being, which surveyed 27 small and large food retail companies, representing more than 26,000 stores, in March and April.
Eighty-four percent of respondents said their company has an established health and well-being strategy, and the same share said their company offers health and well-being activities for both employees and customers—a considerable increase from 49% in 2019.
But just like COVID-19 altered shoppers’ habits—49% are putting more/somewhat more effort into selecting nutritious and healthy options due to the pandemic, according to a separate FMI report—the pandemic altered grocers’ health and well-being programs and activities, with 54% saying it shifted the focus.
The top health and well-being initiatives for food retailers in the coming year, according to the 2021 Retailer Contributions report, are nutrition and overall health (31%); well-being, such as self-care, preventive care and emotional care (15%); and e-commerce (15%). Retailers were also asked to cite their second and third top initiatives, which raised the profile of other choices, such as food and human safety and feeding assistance and community support.
An RD’s Role
FMI’s report finds that registered dietitians (RDs) play key collaborative roles in connecting food to health at retail, including working with culinary teams. About 54% develop recipes based on health and well-being criteria, and the same percentage develops meal solutions that align with health and well-being considerations.
"The role of the retail pharmacist and retail registered dietitian has never been more important," said Krystal Register, director of health and well-being for FMI, in a release. "These professionals have the skillset to support shoppers' health and well-being needs and help translate experiences in-store and online for a cohesive journey."
RDs are also collaborating with health professionals in the community. About a third work with physician assistants, nurse practitioners and culinary medical experts, and 17% are involved with medical doctors, registered nurses and health coaches, the report finds.
• See also, 9 Retail Dietitians Making a Difference
For retailers with RDs—about 65% employ RDs corporately, while 31% said in-store/virtual, and 12% use RDs regionally—measuring their return on investment varies.
A majority (70%) measure ROI by customer participation in program activities led by the dietitians, followed by 65% who said overall success of the health and wellness program and 50% who said social media engagement numbers.
"There’s an opportunity to identify additional data points and measures that would show the full connection between registered dietitians’ services and improved health outcomes, customer loyalty, changes in shopping behaviors and sales."
“The fact that social media engagement is rated so highly speaks volumes about how dietitians have been extending their customer connections across platforms,” FMI said in the report. “Data that would be useful for measurement, such as health risk assessment and biometrics, are challenging to capture and not necessarily being measured now. There’s an opportunity to identify additional data points and measures that would show the full connection between registered dietitians’ services and improved health outcomes, customer loyalty, changes in shopping behaviors and sales.”
And the food retailer’s job doesn’t end with customer participation in an in-store wellness program. To build engagement, 46% of retailers follow up by offering coupons for health foods in-store, 42% offer information about another nutrition or well-being program; 25% offer information about medical adherence; 21% encourage the customer to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician; and 17% make a referral to the company dietitian.
Food as Medicine
The concept of “Food as Medicine,” which is based on the science of connecting food to improved health, was also explored in FMI’s 2021 Retailer Contributions report. It found that while retailers aren’t necessarily calling out the concept, their customer-facing programs align with Food as Medicine’s defined focus areas.
One hundred percent of retailers have programming on the prevention/promotion of health and well-being; 79% on management and treatment of disease; 67% on promotion of food safety; and 63% on nutrition security and feeding assistance programs.
“At a time when we know there is growing consumer interest in eating better to strengthen immunity and prevent disease, it is appropriate to talk about the role of food in the context of medicine as food can be used to prevent disease and promote health, manage chronic conditions and simply nourish,” Register said in an FMI blog.