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10 ways to make your store a health and wellness destination


Nicole Fetterly is taking me on a tour of Choices Markets in downtown Vancouver. She points out the blue shelf tags that are liberally spread about. These denote gluten-free foods, she tells me, while signs ringed in green signify organics. Every month Fetterly, nutrition operations manager, and her staff choose 15 items to highlight with a bright green "Dietitians' Top Choices" tag.

"We might highlight things that are seasonal, like fiddleheads and spotted prawns, or things that are new and have just come out. Or we'll base it on a theme such as gluten-free," Fetterly says. "At the same time, we give people information on why we are choosing the item based on it being high in a certain nutrient, and we try to give them a way to cook it; a way to use that food more practically."

Welcome to the grocery store as it should be. And in the future, must be. With food now the bull's-eye of the war on obesity and illness, grocers have a rare chance to become the centrepoint of health and wellness for consumers. "Thy food is thy medicine," is the new mantra for the grocery industry, says John Scott, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers. "This is the future of grocery retailing: nutritious food for your consumer."

Shoppers certainly want it that way. Nearly 70% believe their supermarket stocks healthy meals and 64% want grocers to highlight healthy food options, according to a survey done in November by Catalina Marketing and the Food Marketing Institute in the U.S. Another 40% expect even more. They believe grocery stores should offer a whole range of health-related services, from providing ailmentspecific recipes to health screening, nutrition counselling and setting up personalized wellness plans.

Gretchen Goffe, director of strategic planning at Pink Tank, a Columbus, Ohio-based ad agency focused on health, calls this the "wellness crossing" trend. "Ten years ago it was about popping a pill. Now it's how do we cut our salt, take fat out of our diet and make things healthier?" says Goffe. Customers, she adds, want grocery stores to show leadership in health issues. It could be as simple as offering more low-sodium products or organizing flyers around health goals. Or it could be as creative as providing healthy menu plans or giving fruit and vegetables kid-friendly nicknames, she says.

But it can also be much more, and we've got 10 tips to increase your store's profile as a place to buy nutritious foods and learn more abouthealthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. None of these ideas, by the way, are pie-in-the-sky stuff. They're all steps that other grocery stores have successfully done. The best part: they're good for the health of your customers, and they're not bad for your store's well-being, either.

Get serious about your on-staff nutritionists
If you want customers to really believe your store is the centre of health and wellness, here's where to start. Nutritionists and dietitians know more about proper eating than anyone. And they can't wait to share that information. So if you don't yet have a nutritionist on staff , you need to get one. If you already have one, don't hold her back. Unleash her expertise on staff and customers.

Grocery nutritionists should be conducting store tours for managers, explaining the ins and outs of a healthy diet to staff and be available to answer shopper questions. "If we are truly committed to being the centre of health and wellness, then we must make stronger commitments to hear what our dietitians have to say," grocery expert Phil Lempert wrote recently in an article on, lamenting the lip service grocers often pay to their own nutritionists.

To see a grocery store using health experts the right way, check out Choices Markets. It employs five dietitians, and they're a busy bunch. They consult with shoppers for free, run 90-minute store tours, hold cooking classes and regularly meet with department managers to talk about nutrition. "It's such a great thing to offer to the customer, and it's great for dietitians because there is no better place to reach people about nutrition messages than at the grocery store," says Fetterly.

Hold more healthy in-store events
After using your dietitian to her full potential, make this your next priority. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand since dietitians and nutritionists can run your in-store health and wellness events. At the Aberdeen Sobeys in New Glasgow, N.S., dietitian Jennalle Butcher regularly holds nutrition classes that teach everything from managing blood pressure and cholesterol to understanding labels for diabetes. She also runs a free 10-week healthy weight management course inside the store's community room.

In Toronto, Longo's has a room called the Loft at six of its 23 stores. The space includes a full-sized kitchen where in-house chefs host cooking classes on everything from heart health to diabetes. Meanwhile, Whole Foods is opening wellness clubs at stores in five major U.S. cities this year. The clubs will teach people all about healthy eating and, of course, healthy shopping.

Spread healthy messages in your community
Who says your health and wellness reputation stops at the checkout? Get out into your town and use your store's expertise in healthy food to talk directly with consumers. For instance, dietitians at Colemans' stores in Newfoundland visit schools to talk about healthy foods.

Or why not partner with a local organization that's already involved in wellness campaigns? During April Cancer Month, Choices Markets joined forces with Vancouver's integrated cancer centre called Inspired Health. Choices produced a list of healthy food and installed bright orange "Inspired Choice" shelf danglers to help customers locate them.

Choices also works with pharmacists, naturopathic clinics and non-profit groups to provide themed store tours throughout the year. And its dietitians visit health centres and seniors' groups, to talk about everything from diabetes to superfoods.

Give your customers a healthy "sign"
Shoppers can stare at ingredient lists and nutrition labels until they're blue in the face. And they still might not understand if a product is healthy. Why not make it easy by implementing a healthy food scoring system? It doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, the simpler the better.

The Fresh Grocer in Philadelphia uses a stoplight system on beverages. Milk and water get a green symbol to tell customers they should be quaffng these drinks most often, says Carly Spross, marketing director. Chocolate milk and 100% fruit juices should be consumed slightly less often so they get a yellow symbol; soda, fruit punches and sport drinks get a red light.

Hannaford Supermarkets, a northeast American chain, developed a five-star rating system. The more nutritious a product, the more stars it gets. Its scoring system adds or subtracts points depending on an item's nutritional content.

Build a kids' snack zone
Why create a healthy zone just for kids? Because the top priority for your biggest customer–Mom!–is to feed her kids nutritious foods. A kids' area with healthy fare makes a bold statement that your store shares Mom's priorities. "If you have an item that is unhealthy and another item that is healthy, but they are making you the same profits, why not promote the healthier one?" says Spross at the Fresh Grocer.

Three years ago, the Fresh Grocer added just such a snack corner (above) to its stores. Kids Corner, as it's called, is located in a brightly coloured, high-traffic area, with fruit, veggies, granola and other healthy food merchandised in a way to appeal to kids. Moms like it, too. A healthy boxed-lunch combo (yogurt, fruit, juice or water and half a whole-grain sandwich) retails for $3.99, and it now outsells the old chips and pop version by about 10 to one.

Promote your healthy programs and products
Are you talking about nutrition and good-foryou foods in flyers? Your newsletter? On your website and Facebook page? These are powerful ways to market your store's health and wellness initiatives. Choices Markets' newsletter has a combined monthly print and e-mail circulation of 90,000. That's about the same as a good-size daily newspaper.

Each issue of the Choices' newsletter includes a "Choice Recipe." May featured a vegan banana, coconut and macadamia pancake. It also contained an events calendar and an article by one of the store's dietitians. A special wellness issue has also been added. It is packed full of nutritional tips and includes coupons for products and services from health and wellness companies.

Meanwhile, Save-On-Foods in the West invests in Meal Solutions TV-spots. The ads feature the chain's in-store dietitians promoting healthy meal ideas. The spots can also be seen on the Save-On-Foods' website.

"Junk-food proof" your checkout
Last January, the Hy-Vee supermarket in Albert Lea, Minn., rolled out what's called the Blue Zones Lane (below). To the disappointment of sugar addicts, the lane contains no candy; only healthy snacks such as granola bars, nuts, dried fruit and fruit cups. There is also a refrigerator with skim milk, yogurt, small bags of baby carrots, light cream cheese, 100% juices and water.

Amy Pleimling, the store's dietitian, says items featured in the lane have seen an average 42% increase in sales. And moms seem to approve. Pleimling has noticed a couple of mothers telling their kids to go grab a snack from the Blue Zone.

Get into medicine
Let's face it: when it comes to health and wellness, drugstores have the advantage. They have pharmacists and medicines. People actually walk into a drugstore seeking wellness (or at least a remedy for illness).

If grocery stores are to compete, they must give off the same kind of aura. It also means holding pharmacy clinics, as Loblaw recently did at some stores, with free 20-minute healthy-heart checks for customers. It means building pharmacies at the front of store for shopper convenience and using apothecary-style designs to distinguish the section from the food aisles. And it demands grocers devote space for customers to sit while waiting for prescriptions and spots where pharmacists can counsel patients.

Some stores are adding additional services. Take drive-thru pharmacies. Cathy Polley, vice-president of health and wellness for the Food Marketing Institute in Arlington, Va., says she's seeing the trend spread in the U.S., and it's a great convenience for a grocery store's customers.

Other supermarkets are dabbling in medical clinics. Wal-Mart Canada recently announced it will add 13 clinics to its stores. It already has 19, while Loblaw has 95. In both cases, the retailers act as landlord to the clinics, which are operated by a third-party company.

Make a splash! Add a wellness department
Erin Shardlow, self-care manager, at Market on Millstream in Victoria, says the store's wellness centre is one big way the grocer differentiates itself from competitors. The section, called the self-care department, comprises an aisle-and-a-half and is stocked with vitamins, supplements and all sorts of organic products, including organic makeup and organic skin care. It has become a top destination for customers concerned with health.

A desk built into the aisle is staffed by trained employees. Shardlow, for instance, is a certified natural product advisor through the Canadian Health Food Association. "We make sure that the brands we carry are of the highest quality and that our employees are very knowledgeable," she says.

Send staff to the source of your foods
Your nutritionists and dietitians should teach even the most junior employees about how to read a nutrition label and the basics of good eating. But why not take it a step further and really give staff an education on the foods you carry by sending them straight to your producers? That's what Longo's does. Several times a year staff visit strawberry and lettuce farms in California, salmon farms in New Brunswick and artisan cheese manufacturers in Quebec. Yes, these trips build relationships with vendors, says spokesperson Rosanne Longo. But they also invigorate employees, allowing them to speak passionately about where Longo's food comes from or what goes into organic farming. Now that's a healthy strategy!

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