Shopping for health and wellness 2019: Consumers in control and proactively taking charge

Since the 1990s, The Hartman Group has been immersed in the study of America’s cultural involvement in health and wellness, one important part of which includes shopping habits. Much of our work along the way has led directly to our interpreting consumer and trade behavior in what today is commonly referred to as the “wellness marketplace” — one significant part of which would include retail channels ranging from online to drugstores to specialty grocers — and everything in between. While “wellness” has become a most ubiquitous term, cultural assumptions about what health and wellness encompasses continue to evolve, especially as consumers gain greater awareness of the dynamic connections between body and mind within a national mood that feels generally anxious and uncertain.

Many of these attitudes and behaviors influence how consumers shop for health and wellness products: Consistent with earlier wellness research, our Health + Wellness 2019: From Moderation to Mindfulness report finds that how consumers shop is a reflection of their health and wellness values, but due to barriers of time, money, and the everyday demands of living, they usually find themselves having to make trade-offs in their shopping. They use heuristic, practical cues as shorthand for getting the healthiest products within the limitations of their lifestyle and resources.

When asked what healthy living means today, in addition to exercise and medicine, the categories of food, beverages, and supplements have been the traditional avenues through which consumers have approached daily healthy living with consequential influence on shopping. Consumer priorities in these categories have shifted toward finding items that signal increased personalization to health and wellness needs. In addition, mindfulness has become central to consumers’ visions of healthy living. In parallel to evolving views on health and wellness, shopper preferences for retailers are shifting too. Health + Wellness 2019 report finds that the top five “best” retailers for healthy items, as ranked by shoppers, were Whole Foods, Amazon, Wegmans, Sprouts Markets and Walmart.

While certain retailers are popular, retail channels themselves are proving popular for meeting health and wellness needs: mass, club, and drug channels tend to carry a broader array of non-food health and wellness products and are more often used for such shopping by all consumers. Consumers closer to the Core of the World of Wellness (those most active in that lifestyle) tend to shop both more retailers overall and more retailers for health and wellness products.

The top barrier to consumers in shopping for health and wellness products is price, and even Core consumers can have difficulty finding the products that they need, suggesting that barriers of access to more personalized health and wellness solutions still exist. Trusted private label health and wellness products are a growing solution to this barrier, as is online shopping. Amazon has emerged as a contender in meeting health and wellness shopper needs, performing extremely well on value, selection, and discovery.

With price representing such a barrier, quality private labels from trusted retailers have emerged as an appealing value equation for many wellness shoppers. Health + Wellness 2019 finds that almost half of consumers use private label health and wellness brands, a 10% increase from 2013. Shoppers tell us that these brands now offer many of the quality cues of name brands.

With more options to choose from, consumers perceive quality health and wellness tiers within private brands and categories just as they do for name brands. As examples:

  • Trader Joe’s has the quality cues—organic, simple ingredients— that many consumers seek, and carries a wide range of specialty health and wellness products and ingredients.
  • Costco’s Kirkland Signature private label brand is a trusted supplement and OTC source.
  • Kroger’s Simple Truth and Whole Foods Market’s 365 also get consumers’ credit for having a wide range of affordable, high-quality health and wellness products.

Within retail settings overall, consumers continue to seek the best value equation of good selection, good prices and good quality:

  • The range of natural/organic and wellness-oriented private label products has grown to meet this need, with almost half of consumers purchasing them—an all-time high.
  • Among retailers, drugstores, Walmart, and Costco are best at converting their regular shoppers to health and wellness shoppers.
  • However, Amazon often performs better than these and most other retailers for health and wellness shopping, including selection, value, and discovery.

In the days ahead, for all retailers catering to health and wellness shoppers, maintaining a trusted, high-quality private label is likely essential to competing in today’s health and wellness market, especially as Amazon emerges as a contender there.

Retailers of health and wellness products face an ongoing challenge when attempting to target consumers who are learning about products and services important to their own wellness aspirations and goals. Because consumers are not all following the same road map as they advance on their wellness journey, there are no hard and fast rules about how to get their attention and their wellness dollars. The one constant, however, is that consumers are at the center of every wellness product and service category, where they are picking and choosing items to better achieve their desired lifestyle. These consumers are very much in control and are proactively taking charge of their lives.

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 As CEO of The Hartman Group, Demeritt 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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