Supermarket Wellness Watch: ‘Almost-fake’ news tests retailers on health


We’ve heard a lot lately about fake news. Much of the talk is about false and deceptive stories invading the Internet and other platforms.

There’s another phenomenon that I call “almost-fake,” which also relates to news and information, specifically about health. In many ways it’s even more challenging, especially for health practitioners and retailers.

I define almost-fake as health information that isn’t based on science.

It draws a big following among consumers, especially younger ones who are defining health in nontraditional ways and looking to new sources for information, including social media. The sources may be well meaning, and the facts may even turn out to be credible, but much of it is questionable and impossible to validate.

All of this worries health professionals such as supermarket dietitians, who need to determine how best to guide consumers. This topic was addressed recently by speakers at The NGA Show in Las Vegas, an annual convention for independent grocers produced by the National Grocers Association.

Two consultants with considerable experience as retail dietitians painted a picture of the new landscape.

For retail health professionals the stakes are high. “This is about how you’ll strategize around health and wellness in the future,” said Annette Maggi, president of Annette Maggi & Associates, a speaker at the NGA event.

“One of the challenges I see in this new definition of health and wellness is where is the scientific evidence?” she continued. “We’re living in an environment now with fake news and alternate facts, and this is one that definitely impacts the health and wellness arena.”

She pointed to ‘clean label’ as a good example. “Many consumers are saying they want fewer ingredients,” she began. “The reality is there isn’t much science behind many of those changes being made.”

What is her solution to this dilemma?  “You need to be responsible in how you message it, because consumers expect that. Retailers have a unique role in consumer education because consumers see them as a filter of information. That authenticity and accuracy really matters.”

Shari Steinbach, president of Shari Steinbach & Associates, another NGA Show speaker, said that “fake news and fear mongering” has added a new dimension to the roles of health professionals.

“As a retail dietitian over the last few years, I’ve spent time debunking Internet stories about what’s bad for you.”

The trick is to tread very carefully in communicating information, she emphasized.

“We look at science as dietitians, but consumers don’t want science shoved down their throats. Consumers have beliefs, and we need to meet them where they are, and provide them information about choices with science-based resources. I want to help them shop our stores, not turn them away by saying what they believe is false.”

These are big challenges for retail health professionals, but many are learning to navigate this path. A smart approach is to use a bit of psychology in interactions with consumers. Tell them the truth without making them feel dumb or wrong. Getting that balance right will produce big wins for retailers and their health teams. 

David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker who was the longtime chief editor and content leader of Supermarket News. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries. To read last month’s blog post, click here


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