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Consumers are turning to grocery retailers as key allies in healthy living

We break down seven health and wellness trends to watch
fruits and vegetables illustration
Consumers want to eat well even when their spending is limited.

Not only is living healthier a bigger priority for the majority of consumers these days, but more and more of us are putting faith in our food providers to support us along the way. According to The Power of Health and Well-Being in the Food Industry 2023 report from the Food Industry Association (FMI), shoppers’ trust in grocers and other food stores to support their personal goals to stay healthy is growing. Now, half of consumers (up from 46% in 2022) say they trust their primary food stores to be allies in their health journey – more than government agencies or food manufacturers.

“Especially in today’s age of having data at our fingertips and there being so much misinformation out there, this value consumers place in the grocery store is a great thing,” says Krystal Register, a registered dietitian and FMI’s senior director of health and well-being. After all, she says grocers are in a unique position to be a one-stop shop in connecting shoppers with registered dietitians and optimal food choices.

For Canadian grocers – especially those who haven’t yet made health and wellness a key part of their business strategy – this signals a real opportunity to draw loyal customers, say industry analysts. And if that’s not enough incentive, the latest statistics from the non-profit Global Wellness Institute show that the global wellness market is surging in the post-pandemic era and is expected to reach US$8.5 trillion by 2027 (almost double the growth from 2020).

Here’s a look at some of the biggest trends in health and wellness expected for this year and beyond – and how grocers can become the consumer’s ultimate health ally. 

1. Nutrition on a budget

Consumers want to eat well even when their spending is limited, and they want grocers to guide them to those budget-friendly choices. 

“There really are nutritious, affordable options around the entire grocery store that can land you in the canned bean aisle or in frozen fruits, vegetables or seafood,” explains FMI’s Register.

READ: Post-COVID, consumers are taking a more proactive approach to their health

Any tips grocers can offer shoppers through in-store programs or on their websites on how to eat healthier – and reduce waste – while spending less will be appreciated this year. 

“When we asked people why they weren’t eating healthy all of the time, the No. 1 reason was cost,” says Joel Gregoire, associate director, food and drink at Mintel. “Accessibility is an important thing to consider, and as a grocer you can convey value by being a place where people know they can eat healthy at a reasonable price.”

2. Wellness across the ages

The latest research from Mintel’s 2024 Global Food & Drink Trends report shows consumers are putting a priority on living well longer. Generation X (ages 44 to 58), in particular, is leading the charge by openly discussing once-taboo subjects such as menopause. As 76% of Canadian gen Xers worry about illness associated with aging, brands are expected to play a key role in helping guide them through transitional periods of middle age over the next 12 months. Not surprising, the motivation for eating healthy differs across the ages, says Gregoire. Whereas older generations may be concerned with high sodium or excess sugar, younger generations are motivated by food and drink that can enhance physical or mental performance. 

“So, if I was trying to appeal to a younger demographic, saying something is low in sodium is not going to be relatable,” he says. As healthy living becomes a priority, Aaron Skelton, president and CEO of the Canadian Health Food Association, says people are turning to natural products more and more. “We just did a study that showed 80% of Canadians are using natural health products on a regular basis,” he says. “These are people looking to take control of their health and they’re finding different, unique ways to do that.”

3. Sustainable shopping

Those seeking a more holistic health and wellness lifestyle are also concerned about their environmental impact. An emerging type of consumer is the “everyday activist” who sees themselves as a catalyst for change, says Skelton. “They see that small changes can have a compounded impact on the environment... they want to buy from companies walking the talk,” he says, adding that this includes their grocers. 

Another buzzword expected to gain momentum in 2024 is “rewilding,” or letting nature take its course, says Skelton. “As people are trying to embrace living a longer, healthier life it’s not so much about reducing their footprint, but how are you supporting filling it in.” 

READ: Sustainable shopping: Where do we go from here?

That applies to suppliers looking to source their supply chain from farm to final product, but also to grocers putting more emphasis on regenerative farming and refillable, more sustainable packaging.

“Our shoppers are more environmentally conscious than ever,” says Anthony D’Addario, vice-president of purchasing and merchandising at Ontario-based chain Nature’s Emporium. “They expect grocers to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, whether it’s through offering more eco-friendly products, reducing waste, or supporting sustainable farming practices.” 

To that end, D’Addario says Nature’s Emporium is transparent in providing clear and honest information about its products so “customers can shop with confidence and be empowered about their purchasing decisions.”

4. Weight-loss is top of mind

In a recent NielsenIQ webinar, vice-president of wellness Sherry Frey spoke of the growing rate of obesity across the United States and globally. 

“[In research panels] this past year, we have seen a doubling of the number of households who said they were obese and overweight and were taking a weight-loss drug,” she said. 

READ: Weighing the threat of Ozempic on snack sales

Along with an uptick in products with claims around metabolism support, there is ongoing interest in obesity support and weight-management supplements. The increasing popularity of GLP-1 agonists (medications such as Ozempic and Wegovy) that suppress appetite, is also helping destigmatize conversations around obesity, says Frey. 

“It’s taking it out of this idea that [controlling weight] is just about willpower and eating better with fewer calories, to the reality that this is actually a chronic disease that needs to be managed.” For grocers, it’s important to think about how to support these consumers who may be eating less, but still want to make their meals as nutrient-packed as possible. 

5. Personalized health education

While there may have been a decline of nutritionists, dietitians and other experts in-store during the pandemic, the trend towards more personalized group or one-on-one health and wellness education is expected to re-emerge, both in person and through virtual programs and social media. 

FMI’s report showed that 41% of shoppers noted the availability of nutrition and health information as one of the most important attributes in their primary food store. FMI’s Register says the grocery store lends itself well to personalized health education because it can connect experts with customers at the point-of-purchase where they are making the majority of their food decisions. 

A big opportunity in using retail registered dietitians, for example, is being able to provide nutrition therapy specific to disease management. They can also work with retail pharmacists to provide direct access to healthcare services such as flu shots, blood pressure monitoring and diabetes support. Providing free health and wellness programs for customers at Community Natural Foods locations in Alberta has proven extremely popular, says Matt Penner, the store’s director of operations and merchandising.

READ: Making the case for health guidance in the grocery store

“We have a 21-day kick-sugar program in-store right now that goes along with five webinars and a personalized store tour to help you through that New Year reset,” he explains. “Our team members are always available to take people looking to eat differently throughout the store to show them different products.” 

At all Nature’s Emporium stores, there are holistic nutritionists and certified wellness experts on hand to offer advice and personalized recommendations. This year, there are also plans for events offering specialized advice and practical strategies on topics such as women’s health and immune system support.

6. Using technology for healthier food choices

Digital tools are gaining favour as another way to personalize the grocery experience to improve healthy food choices. 

“Technology is anticipated to incentivize a more targeted approach to well-being,” says Simona Bernatonyte, a consultant at Euromonitor International. “Grocers prepared to invest in the digital wellness space will reap the benefits of this, including gauging the attention of techsavvy consumers who want to take their nutrition and well-being care one step further.” 

The K-Ruoka app, developed by Finland supermarket chain Kesko, is a good example, says Bernatonyte. Once customers download the app, they can set personal wellness goals – such as eating more fibre or using more good fats – and get recommended products and recipes to support them.

READ: How embracing artificial intelligence can elevate the shopper experience

“Development and adoption of such applications may greatly benefit the grocer itself, as such data will better inform the business about the trends of health-conscious consumers,” she says. 

On a similar note, U.S.-based grocery chain Albertsons added a nutrition function to its Sincerely Health app last year that offers real-time nutritional information and rewards customers for healthy lifestyle choices. Loblaw made similar moves in 2020 with the launch of its PC Health app. 

As generative artificial intelligence becomes more and more prevalent, it could be an important tool for addressing consumers’ health and wellness needs, says Mintel’s Gregoire. As an example, he points to the chat function on a grocer’s website that could link to a product assortment based on a person’s health and wellness queries. 

“The question is whether it can make people more aware of things they might not have considered otherwise, such as certain healthy ingredients or recipes,” he says. “I believe the role that AI is going to have in our lives as a go-to for a lot of answers is only going to increase.”

7. Food as medicine

Research from Euromonitor International points to a growing number of “wellness pragmatists” in 2024, who are looking for products backed by proven clinical efficacy to enhance their bodies and minds. The data shows that half are looking to treat or prevent sleep problems and target weight-management, while 47% want to address mental health and 46% are looking to skin health. These consumers prefer effective remedies that easily fit into their lifestyle without too much time or effort and expect brands to show the benefits of usage to gain credibility. 

For grocers, that means first understanding the wellness goals of their shoppers to determine where to invest, then creating easy solutions that use existing products within the store. 

Euromonitor suggests using verified claims, demos or testimonials (or other methods such as expert staff or technology) to help educate shoppers on product benefits and claims. 

Over the course of this whole decade, consumers will be looking to food and beverages to be a “major means of improving one’s cognitive abilities” across age groups, says Karine Dussimon, industry manager at Euromonitor International. 

READ: Canadians plan to cut back on snacks, meat and alcohol in 2024

“As links between the brain and compounds – such as fibre and protein, ingredients like B vitamins and even metabolic states such as ketosis – become more widely understood, there will be a flourishing of health claims associated with these insights.” 

Dussimon says this concept of food as medicine is the driving force behind “the unabated growth in health and wellness sales” that’s even partially offsetting mounting economic pressures worldwide. Along with cognition, another key area trending is women’s health. “The rising awareness of products, which specifically benefit women, opens vast opportunities,” she says, noting that brand owners can learn how to build success around women’s biological life stages. 

NeilsenIQ’s Frey says one of those stages gaining particular attention this year is menopause. With so many issues around menopause that women are struggling with, she says most of the growth is actually happening at the nutrient level rather than through product claims. And it’s not just women in their 50s either, she adds. “We’re seeing millennials starting to enter perimenopause … so it’s a large subset of consumers who are facing this.” 

When it comes to promoting food as medicine in grocery, Penner says there are plenty of opportunities to showcase foods that are boosted with micronutrients. “What we’ve been doing in both our cafes and food areas at Community Natural Foods are elixir shots,” he says. “They’ve been used for improving immunity and [as a] detox in the past, but now they’re trending into other areas of [improving] skin, sleep, energy and stress.” 

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s February 2024 issue.

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