While health and wellness was already a key trend ahead of the pandemic, COVID-19 drove it to the forefront of consumers’ minds and retailers’ strategies more than ever. FMI–The Food Industry Association explores this movement in the third edition of its Power of Health and Well-Being in the Food Industry report, which leverages insights from its Food Retailing Industry Speaks and U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends surveys and other pieces from the association.
The report notes that 49% of shoppers are putting more/somewhat more effort into selecting nutritious and healthy options due to the pandemic. And still, many consumers (58%) say they could be somewhat or a lot healthier.
“Consumers report phases of ‘unhealthy’ eating early in the pandemic, often driven by a combination of disrupted schedules, routines and habits; tumultuous food shopping landscapes; and stress and anxiety and a heightened need for comfort,” according to FMI’s Trends 2021 survey. “While every person had [their] own internal threshold for how unhealthy was too unhealthy, at some point consumers realized they had veered too far off course and needed to get back on track (or find a new path) toward healthier, more balanced eating.”
And shoppers are increasingly turning to supermarkets to help them with their health and well-being goals—a role the industry is embracing by “leveraging everything from meal solutions to e-commerce innovations,” Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI, said in the report’s forward.
“The time is right to highlight the supermarket as the destination for health and well-being, mindful of the many valuable contributors across the entire industry who bring actionable ideas to the marketplace, from suppliers and manufacturers to executives and merchants to community partners and local healthcare systems to retail pharmacists and registered dietitians,” she continued.
Shoppers rate food stores relatively high as being on their side when it comes to helping them stay healthy, the Power of Health and Well-Being report concludes. About 48% of consumers who responded to the 2021 Trends survey say their primary food store is on their side; 45% say the same for food stores, in general. That rating is higher than for drug stores (42%), online-centric grocery providers (35%) and manufacturers/food processors (31%).
The Retailer Connection
Measures retailers took to support their customers’ health and wellness needs amid the pandemic included providing transparency around cleaning and sanitation protocols; expanding e-commerce services; offering meal solutions that embrace health; pivoting in-person dietitian services and classes to online; and, of course, administering COVID-19 vaccines.
Transparency in food retailing typically correlates to products and ingredients, the report notes, but during the pandemic, retailers focused on being transparent about store safety measures to ensure a safe shopping experience. These efforts came at a cost—pandemic-related expenses
For consumers who didn’t feel safe shopping in-store, they turned in droves to pickup and delivery. Retailers enhanced these services, as well as online search tools, which FMI found consumers are increasingly using to find products that support their health goals. Seventy-five percent of consumers are using online tools to help identify product details, while 63% are using the filter feature to search for specific attributes.
What’s more, shoppers embraced buying fresh foods through e-commerce, FMI notes, with fresh food moving into the top 10 list of categories purchased through online shopping by mid-April 2020.
And as consumers experienced cooking fatigue from preparing more meals at home as restaurants, offices and schools closed, they turned to retailers for meal ideas and solutions. This will remain important as 41% of consumers expect to cook more at home in the future than they did during the pandemic, the report notes.
In addition to supporting its customers, retailers also showed an interest in their employees’ health and well-being. About 35% of retailers operated employee wellness programs as a hiring and retention strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic, FMI found.