FMI report: Looking into the future of retail health and wellness

Health and wellness is big business in the food retail industry today, but it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t always been that way. What started as a category associated more with specialty stores has turned into a major mainstream trend that holds significant business opportunities for food retailers of all shapes and sizes.

The Food Marketing Institute has seen health and wellness explode in the food retail business, with 81% of food retailers looking at health and wellness programs as an area with opportunity for significant business growth, compared with 70% three years ago, according to the group’s 2017 Report on Retailer Contributions to Health and Wellness. Health and wellness has become more of a business strategy for food retailers, 56% of whom look to health and wellness to position themselves as a one-stop-shop for their customers, and 72% of whom eye healthier options as a way to grow their private-label brands. Many food retailers have identified health and wellness as a way to establish greater customer loyalty, the report found, and nearly two-thirds of retailers see health and wellness as a necessity when it comes to remaining competitive in today’s retail environment.

Food retailers today are investing in several activities to strengthen their commitment to health and wellness, FMI found in the report, with 86% of retailers offering product sampling events, healthy recipes and better-for-you products for their customers. List-creating apps and text programs, special labeling on private-brand products, healthy prepared food offerings and food safety education are also among the investments many retailers are making in health-related activities. When it comes to promoting these activities to their shoppers, 93% of food retailers are looking to their websites and social media presence to spread the word, FMI’s report found.

In addition to identifying current trends in retail health and wellness, FMI’s report also identified some important emerging trends. For example, nearly two-thirds of retailers currently hold health-focused store tours and wellness classes at some of their locations. Retailers are also adding cooking demonstrations and classes, nutrition counseling, events for kids, community health events, health-focused endcap displays and weight management classes to their shopper activity options, the report found.

The report also touches on the growing importance of in-store dietitians, with retailers saying that while they’re not the most common method of health and wellness-focused outreach, dietitians are the most effective method of outreach. Today, nearly 90% of retailers employ store dietitians at the corporate, regional, store or consultant level, according to the report.

These dietitians are largely responsible for retailers’ store tour offerings, FMI reported. About 93% of retailers now offer store tours, and nearly three-quarters of the tours are given by a staff dietitian. More than 80% of the tours given focus on healthy eating habits, the report found, and about two-thirds focus on nutrition labeling, kids and schools -- which points to health and wellness as a topic that will remain important for future generations.

Cooking is also playing a growing part in health and wellness in food retail, the report found. Today, about 71% of stores employ chefs, FMI reported, compared with half in 2014. More than two-thirds of retailers use health and wellness as inspiration for creating recipes to share with shoppers, and about half of cooking classes offered by retailers are focused on kids and family meals, according the report.

And as the focus on healthy cooking and family meals sharpens, participation in FMI’s annual National Family Meals Month initiative has increased. About 40% of responding food retailers took part in Family Meals Month in 2015, while 70% actively promote family meals and other eating activities today, FMI reported.

And to encourage those family meals and healthy eating habits, retailers are putting more resources toward delivering relevant content to shoppers, the FMI report found. More than 90% of retailers have dedicated health and wellness websites, with nearly all retailers offering content related to healthy recipes through the sites. Almost three-quarters of retailers now maintain health and wellness blog content, and about a third of retailers even offer monthly health and wellness newsletters for their shoppers, the report found.

As the food retail environment continues to shift and change, one thing is clear through FMI’s Report on Retailer Contributions to Health and Wellness -- retailers’ focus on catering to shopper demand for health and wellness is here to stay.

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