An expanding world of retailer health efforts

David Orgel
Principal, David Orgel Consulting

For much of this year, it has seemed the health-and-wellness discussions across retail were centered on one thing — COVID-19. Food and drug retailers pulled out all the stops, from ramping up testing capabilities to enhancing in-store sanitation protocols. 

Now, more than seven months into the pandemic, retailers increasingly are spotlighting consumer wellness solutions for a wider range of needs — from mental health resources to nutritional coaching. And even if some of these resources were in place before, their profile is being raised. The effect is to remind consumers that health has many angles. This is a smart move and a great service to customers, as long as it’s executed well.

Building COVID-19-related capabilities
Before getting into this broadening focus, lets start with a quick update on how coronavirus-focused health initiatives are evolving. Retailers are expanding free COVID-19 testing, including Hy-Vee’s recent expansion to 150 locations for this service. Retailers also are boosting capabilities to be prepared for the dual challenges of COVID-19 and the flu — see CVS Health’s recent move to hire 15,000 more employees, including 10,000 pharmacy technicians. 

Addressing a broader range of needs
As the pandemic rages on, retailers are addressing a bigger variety of health needs, even if some of these arose from pandemic-related stress. Retail solutions include digital tools, among them Walmart’s new Safe & Well website, which is an interactive platform that provides prescription-drug safety and mental health resources. Kroger introduced a Wellness Experience online platform, which offers monthly digital events and healthy-living resources. 

Targeting specific health topics
Some of the new efforts are aimed at supporting targeted health and wellness needs.

  • Hannaford Supermarkets unveiled an app focused on helping parents teach children about how to practice healthy eating. The app and companion website are called Hannaford Snack Pals;
  • Walgreens is making efforts to address health disparities in Chicago’s underserved communities. Efforts by pharmacists include diabetes outreach and pediatric asthma outreach and education; and 
  • Natural Grocers is enhancing its free nutrition education program by adding virtual components in light of pandemic in-person safety concerns. The program includes personalized sessions with the retailer’s Nutritional Health Coaches.  
My takeaway is that it’s not enough to offer an array of health offerings — retailers need to make it easy for consumers to find items and understand the benefits. 

Ensuring good consumer experiences
Many of the new efforts leverage online platforms, a wise move in this pandemic landscape. However, retailers will need to carefully measure results, to make sure consumer experiences match retailer goals. 

A new study from Label Insight relays some potential pitfalls in online communications, specifically as it relates to e-commerce. The study, called “Empty Aisles: The Grocery E-Commerce Shopability Audit” and released in October, was based on research that analyzed 30 of the top U.S. grocery, health, beauty and pet retailers, according to an article in Progressive Grocer, a sister publication to DSN. The study found consumers are often not finding products on retailer e-commerce sites that meet their specific dietary, medical, allergen and values-based needs. 

“On average, even among the top 25 most popular need-state searches, including organic, gluten-free and vegan, retailers failed to return more than half of qualifying products, giving shoppers a limited selection to choose from,” the PG article reported. In addition, the research found more than half of respondents said it’s challenging to ensure a product meets the goals of their diet or health regime.

My takeaway is that it’s not enough to offer an array of health offerings — retailers need to make it easy for consumers to find items and understand the benefits. 

I give retailers a lot of credit for making available wider assortments of health and wellness solutions. This has the potential to result in new customers and increased loyalty. It just needs to be executed in a way that provides optimal customer experiences. 

About the Author

David Orgel

David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries.

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