Shopping for health and wellness today: The role of food, beverage as competitive distinction

Consumers’ awareness of and engagement with their health issues and overall wellness appears to be growing, and how to market health and wellness is an ongoing challenge. In the US, consumers continue to view food and beverage as the linchpin of both health and wellness and increasingly look for the hallmarks of fresher, less processed foods and beverages, according to The Hartman Group’s Health + Wellness 2017 report.

Industry executives, spanning the broad spectrum of the supply chain, from farm to fork, recognize the transformative power of health and wellness in shaping their business but grapple with how to leverage health and wellness as the foundation for building competitive distinction.

Consumers have been playing in the aspirational lifestyle that we call health and wellness for several decades now. We believe that the health and wellness lifestyle is evolving into something more. Something beyond. Something that accounts for an evolving way of living that eclipses mere health and wellness. We have increasingly come to understand this space as something we refer to as possibility.

Our notion of possibility is about concrete, real-world opportunities to experience and enjoy the highest quality of life (possible). And this quality of life is limited only by one’s imagination.

To see the possibilities means to understand where consumers are today.

Since the 1990s, when we first began tracking consumers’ perspectives and behaviors around health and wellness, we’ve seen consumer definitions of health and wellness shift from a rules-based, reactive paradigm to a proactive wellness culture where ideas about what health and wellness is and how to achieve it have broadened to encompass many, if not all, aspects of consumers’ lives. Our Health and Wellness 2017 report finds these aspects to include diet, the ebb and flow of energy, sleep and rest, activity and exercise, mindfulness and emotional outlook, mental health, social engagement and work-life balance.

Healthy eating — and consequently shopping — remains the center of most consumer notions of health and wellness. For most, healthy eating is defined by shopping for and acquiring fresh, whole, less-processed foods and beverages, which consumers believe retain more of their nutrients. More consumers than ever are experimenting with their diet and “free-from diets” are on the rise. As they make dietary changes, moderately involved health and wellness consumers start by trading up to “better-for-you” versions of their staples, such as replacing soda with sparkling water and white bread with whole wheat. More health involved consumers are using plant-based proteins, meats and cheeses — especially millennials.

Health and wellness at retail

When it comes to shopping in the context of health and wellness, consumers distribute their shopping across an array of channels and retailers, balancing priorities and specializing where it counts.

Stores and channels trusted for health and wellness are those that consumers perceive as prioritizing access to healthy products and experiences. Such stores are seen to provide an accessible assortment of symbolically healthful products, and don’t just stock healthful and trend-forward items, but merchandise products so as to encourage trial and adoption. Lower prices on like-for-like swaps and high-stakes health and wellness products and categories (like meat or vitamins) are particularly compelling as is an inspiring, health-positive atmosphere.

Consumers use channel and retail strategies that allow them to buy better and healthier when it matters to them most — in high-stakes categories and occasions. These strategies help them balance health and wellness, convenience and budgetary priorities. Most rotate among a few grocery stores, choosing on the basis of promotions, categories needed or shopping environment. Monthly trips are interspersed to mass or club for low prices on personal care and household products and bulk goods. Occasional trips to specialty retailers round out the routine.

Consumers acknowledge that mainstream grocery stores are doing a substantially better job than in the past of offering “healthy” foods (even if they are not generally seen as good at following through in terms of atmosphere, expertise, or communication of values). This perception is primarily grounded in experiences of:

  • A greater selection of organic and natural food options
  • Better selection of products catering to more diverse ways of eating relating to dietary restrictions, functional foods, global cuisine

While health and wellness lifestyles are increasingly complex and dynamic and include emphasis on not only diet but a diversity of elements ranging from mindfulness and emotional outlook to work-life balance, the centrality of foods and beverages to wellness lifestyles is still a key component on which retailers can capitalize so as to remain relevant.

Going forward, shoppers are seeking retailers who can act a source of expertise via curated product sets, well-informed and responsive employees, informative signage and explicit classes or information sessions.

Highly regarded health and wellness retailers will offer:

  • Effective communication of values consumers may share which influence the organization as well as product assortment all of which can work to signal authenticity
  • Lighting, layout, style, colors that make shopping fun and inspire healthful and varied cooking and eating experiences
  • Wellness can be strongly cued through freshness and transparency relating to local sourcing, organic and natural brands, animal welfare and hormone-, antibiotic- and GMO-free ingredients
  • Deli and prepared food departments should be prepared to address consumer requests for customization, ingredients and sourcing information. Grocerant services can help consumers as they seek livable changes in their diets by providing meal solutions that balance indulgence and fun with healthy choices. Help consumers by offering combination suggestions that show a variety of moderate options, smaller portion sizes of indulgent favorites, and healthy, ethnic or globally-inspired options that tempt diners.

As CEO of The Hartman Group, Laurie drives the vision, strategy, operations and results-oriented culture for the company's associates as The Hartman Group furthers its offerings of tactical thinking, consumer and market intelligence, cultural competency and innovative intellectual capital to a global marketplace.

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