Supermarkets Increase Health & Wellness Investment

By Cathy Polley, RPH, Vice President Of Health And Wellness, FMI/Executive Director, FMI Foundation

More than ever before, food retailers are investing in health and wellness promotions in stores. In 2014, more than half of food retailers (54 percent) established health and wellness programs for both customers and employees. At the same time, a majority of food retailers (61 percent) reported that their companies’ overall health and wellness programs and activities increased moderately or significantly between 2013 and 2014.

Increased programming by food retailers highlights a shift in focus from merely talking about health and wellness to creating opportunities for customers and employees to participate in their own health and wellness activities. For example: Price Chopper’s “Know Your Produce” advisory program online allows customers to search different produce and learn about an item’s nutritional value, peak season, cooking tips, etc.; Carlisle, PA-based Giant Food Stores’ “Passport to Nutrition” program provides an interactive toolkit to teach kids about healthy ideas. It’s a full school curriculum for ages 8 through 12 years old.

The Food Marketing Institute recently launched a first-of-its-kind collaboration among the FMI Foundation, grocers and their valued customers to share, inspire and help each other prepare more family meals at home. This September, we kick-start National Family Meals Month, a movement to promote the benefits of family meals and help bring mealtime home to the family table. (Learn more about this exciting initiative by visiting

With an impressive 96 percent of food retailers committed to expanding in-store health and wellness initiatives in the coming years, it is clear that today’s food retailers (70 percent) identify this area as one with significant business growth opportunity.

Measuring Success

As investment in health and wellness activities increases so does the need for companies to set quantitative business goals to track and measure program effectiveness and determine the path forward. In 2014, more than 63 percent of retailers established health and wellness business goals and implemented mechanisms necessary to track results and to measure success. The most commonly utilized tracking mechanism today — employed by nearly 90 percent of companies — is quantitative customer participation. Qualitative respondent feedback comes in second at 80 percent, and at just below 50 percent, sales figures rank third. Despite a 30 to 40 percent drop, the effectiveness of sales figures to track results rivals the reported effectiveness of both customer participation and feedback.

Rx For Implementation

The trend is to empower pharmacy leadership teams (59 percent) and nutrition leadership teams (50 percent) to guide companywide health and wellness strategy. In instances where health and wellness strategy decisions remain with a company’s president and chief executive officer (36 percent), the pharmacy and nutrition teams are often still charged with implementation. Sixty-seven percent of retailers report that their pharmacists and dietitians work together to plan and develop health and wellness programs. For many, this professional collaboration extends to how they service health-seeking customers. Forty-eight percent report collaboration on customer-specific recommendations, and 52 percent report customer referrals between pharmacy and nutrition services.

Whereas the pharmacist is a well-established, trusted health care provider at most supermarkets chains, the supermarket dietitian is a relatively new phenomenon. However, with 95 percent of retailers now employing dietitians at some level — data suggest the phenomenon is here to stay, and for good reason.

Retailers are not only interested in servicing sick customers; 74 percent report organizing health and wellness offerings to balance engagement with both well and sick customers. To add value for health-minded customers, supermarkets are turning to dietitian-provided services like store tours to help shoppers navigate the grocery aisles.

Retailers are also employing chefs in greater numbers — 76 percent employ a chef at all or some stores. A near equivalent 74 percent now offer cooking classes. In sync with these trends toward culinary and healthy eating, 84 percent of retailers report actively promoting communal eating, such as family meals. While relatively few of these programs have been formalized, the family meal concept and research supporting the health benefits have clearly been embraced by retailers across the country.