Changing customer perception key to healthy eating

4/4/2012

Grocers can profit from selling healthy foods, but they need to change customer perception first.

That was a key message at the recent three-day symposium for supermarket dietitians hosted by Oldways, an international nonprofit organization based in Boston that promotes healthy eating.

“There’s this impression that the whole food industry is making its profit by foisting unhealthy stuff, but we’ve seen good evidence that when supermarket dieticians, grocery managers and manufactures work together, there’s definitely a way to make money selling good food,” says Cynthia Harriman, director of food & nutrition strategies at Oldways.

Key goals for supermarkets going forward include: finding ways to help shoppers buy and eat more fruit and vegetables in all forms and eliminating false perceptions around all processed foods.

“Messages go out to the consumer all the time about shopping the perimeter of the store for healthy foods,” she says. “We want to help shoppers realize that many healthy options–such as whole grains, canned beans and frozen vegetables–are found in the centre aisles,” says Harriman. “Cheese and yogurt are processed foods but they are part of a healthy diet too.”

She says stores often make the mistake of putting “healthy” foods off to one small corner leading customers to believe there aren’t healthy choices elsewhere.

Making shoppers aware of all the resources store dietitians can provide was another key message. With their expertise, supermarket dietitians can spearhead healthy eating clinics and promote economically viable healthy meals for low-income families.

Crossover between in-store pharmacies and dietitians can also provide ways to educate customers on how to eat better for their health. “You could include a healthy shopping list with a customer’s heart medication or have the dietitian provide gluten-free samples and talk about celiac disease,” says Harriman.

Getting shoppers excited about the taste, smell and colours of healthy foods is essential, says Harriman—and that goes well beyond providing recipe cards in the aisles. In-store cooking classes and the pairing of recipe ingredients in one area can prompt shoppers to pick healthier options.

Oldways started this annual symposium two years ago to support the work of supermarket dietitians. The event, which was held in Savannah, GA from February 29–March 2, brought together more than 30 dietitians from leading supermarkets (including Sobeys and Thrifty Foods) along with representatives from 16 food companies.

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