The diabetic demand

With cases of diabetes rising fast, grocers are coming up with ways to educate consumers

When Brenda Hill's husband was diagnosed with diabetes 12 years ago she decided to open her own grocery store to help others manage the disease by specializing in sugar-free, no-sugar-added, gluten-free and lowcarb foods. Last February, she opened a second Diabetic Depot in Calgary. It's a prime example of how grocery is coming up with creative solutions to deal with diabetes.

Another example: Loblaw. Last March the supermarket giant teamed up with the Canadian Diabetes Association to launch "Get Checked Now," a national public awareness campaign aimed at getting Canadians over 40 tested for Type 2 diabetes. National television ads and radio spots brought attention to symptoms such as severe tingling or numbness, indicators of the onset of diabetes. The ads also told consumers where to go to get checked.

It's estimated some 5.4 million Canadians live with pre-diabetes (the condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal) and another million have undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes. "Grocery stores have a tremendous opportunity here," says Michael Cloutier, president of the Canadian Diabetes Association. "Many of the large stores have become one-stop shopping for consumers they can relay healthy messaging through a variety of departments."

Dean Miller, vice-president of pharmacy operations at Loblaw, says diabetes education is an important initiative because so many consumers either have the disease or are at risk of getting it. More than 12,000 Canadians were screened for diabetes during March, when Loblaw launched the program, and the retailer's pharmacists continue to encourage shoppers to take diabetes risk assessments.

The second phase of Loblaw's program is called "Helping you live life well." It was developed in conjunction with the Canadian Diabetes Association and takes risk assessment to the next level, with free 90-minute educational sessions, cooking classes and store tours offered by dietitians, chefs and pharmacists all focused on promoting wellness. "We want to communicate to customers how they can cook healthy and shop properly. It's a complete package of diabetes care," Miller says. More than 900 of the sessions are scheduled across the country from now until next February.

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