The Challenge of Health and Wellness

June 21, 2013

The challenge of health and wellness is in the communication with our shoppers.

The challenge of health and wellness is in the communication with our shoppers.

At the end of May, FMI held its “Health and Wellness @ Retail” conference bringing together retail dietitians, CPG brands, pharmacists and others who have committed their efforts to improving the healthfulness of Americans. At this point we all can recite the statistics on obesity, heart disease, diabetes and the like; and understand we have a serious problem to confront and rectify.

Our CPG brethren are reformulating, reducing sugars, sodium and portion sizes. The industry is attempting to get the word out to consumers to eat smarter, read labels and consume less. Retailers are adding dietitians to corporate and store level positions.

So when I was asked by the FMI to moderate a panel of dietitians at the conference I was looking forward to hearing how some progress was being made. (Disclosure: I was not paid by FMI to speak or moderate at the conference nor did they reimburse my travel).

What the audience and I discovered was yes, there was some progress being made, but that the real problem to be faced was empowering shoppers with facts in order to separate hearsay and reality on many issues including “gluten free” and “sugars.”

The dietitian panel included three retailers, one CPG dietitian and an independent dietitian who consulted primarily with health resorts and spas. They all agreed that the most important need was clear fact-based communications to the consumer.

When I asked the panel what was in fact the No. 1 “fact vs. fiction” issue that they were confronted with from their shoppers, two of three retailers said it was the confusion and misinformation about GMOs. Not surprising, since this issue is surrounded by much emotion (on both sides), much confusion, science that is difficult for the layman to comprehend, media coverage of the labeling legislation efforts on state and federal levels and the needs of a growing population.

The frustration that I heard from the panel was twofold: Having clear, easy-to-understand fact-based information available to share with shoppers, and the openness of shoppers to listen.

The first is simple. IFIC has just released a new publication, “Food Biotechnology: A Communications Guide to Improving Understanding” — available for a free download — which offers a good 101 in layman’s terms.

The second part, openness of shoppers to listen, is not so easy. With emotion-charged personal issues, such as health, it is hard for anyone to listen with an open mind in this era of mixing Google unpaid and paid searches and television commercial messages. Our goal should be to equip our store personnel — from cashier to manager, from buyer to CEO — with the correct and honest information to share with our shoppers.