(Feb. 16) LAS VEGAS — Health and wellness were the game at the National Grocers Association Annual convention for independent retail and wholesale grocers Feb. 9-12 at the Paris Las Vegas hotel.
A concurrent theme throughout the convention was the need for retailers to promote health to their customers. Pedometers were handed out in registration packets as tools to promote cardiovascular fitness, and several sessions focused on retail’s obligation to educate consumers how to make wise and healthful choices in the supermarket.
At the “Steps to Healthy Living — What is the Retailer’s Role?” workshop Feb. 10, attendees learned the benefits of promoting healthfulness to customers.
Speaker Jon Seltzer, a consultant for Corporate Resources Inc., said retailers can educate consumers in many ways. Some of his examples included using vendor promotions, emphasizing the power of produce, using produce demonstrations, throwing a health fair, emphasizing proper serving size, conducting contests where shoppers guess the calorie and fat content of certain products and promoting new products.
He said consumer education should be fun, meaningful and attainable.
During the workshop, Alice Lockett, senior nutritionist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Stamp Program, Washington D.C., said food stamp users need help making better purchases.
The Food and Nutrition Service has a food stamp nutrition program that allots 30% of funding to schools.
Childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic in the U.S. and is a social responsibility, she said.
Brock Leach, senior vice president of new growth platforms and chief innovation officer for PepsiCo Health and Wellness, said the obesity issue is the largest health issue for the food business.
Leach said the answer to the epidemic is energy balance that can be achieved through decreasing simple carbohydrates like sugar and fat in one’s diet and increasing complex carbohydrates like those found in fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains.
The key to increasing consumption of healthy products like produce is to make it a quick and easy option. This can be done through on-the-go packaging, prepared foods identified as being healthy, products that are merchandised as being naturally nutritious, like fruits and vegetables and reliable nutrition information.
Seltzer recommended creating an advisory board — including a doctor and a nutritionist — for in-store reference to customers on health and nutrition topics.
One member of the audience said she has dietitians from local hospitals conduct in-store diabetes clinics, where diabetes-friendly food is suggested and offered.
The Feb. 10 general session featured Dean Ornish, founder, president and director of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, and Kenneth Cooper, author and founder of The Cooper Aerobics Center health and fitness complex.
Cooper educated the audience on the difference between good and bad fats and other standards for healthy living.
Ornish emphasized the need for small retail chains and independent stores to educate consumers on health issues. Ornish pointed out that when people feel cared about, they become your most loyal consumer.
He said retailers need to show consumers they care enough about them to find out what foods are good for them and make them easy to buy and consume. He said small companies can provide more personal attention to shoppers than larger chains, and people are willing to pay more for it.
He said that retailers should provide new and tasty choices to consumers. Ornish said promoting the Atkins Diet will jeopardize the consumer’s health.
At the general session on Feb. 11 titled “Focus on a More Loyal Consumer,” Ana Maria Fernandez-Haar, chairwoman and chief executive officer of the marketing consulting firm IAC Group, Miami, , spoke on the value of marketing to the Latino and Hispanic consumer.
She said there are 37.4 million Hispanic people in the U.S., and their purchasing power equals $428.3 billion.
She said bilingual signs placed around the produce department are important since the U.S. is the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.
Promotions and sampling are huge persuaders for this segment of the population to buy food, because they often purchase on impulse.
Fernandez-Haar emphasized the need for retailers to provide the staple Latin American flavors on their shelves, like red pepper, mangos, limes, coconut and passion fruit.
This demographic cooks a lot and uses much produce. She said the biggest concern for Latin and Hispanic consumers is food safety and many consumers wish to have the sourcing of products explained.