From health to digital: 7 big ideas from the FMI Midwinter Conference


Health and beauty care marketing needs to emphasize values. Disease prevention efforts need more emphasis. Holistic health is an opportunity waiting to be embraced. Those are just three of the ideas spotlighted at a senior leadership meeting for the supermarket industry, the Food Marketing Institute’s Midwinter Executive Conference.

The message at the Scottsdale, Ariz., event was that food retailers have an opportunity to further advance efforts with nutrition, pharmacy and related services, partly by forming innovative collaborations with partners. Other topics discussed included a race to attract millennial shoppers, the growing challenges with advertising and the increasing momentum for socially responsible strategies. Following are key takeaways from the event.

1. HBC needs value push

What if a store has great values but no one notices? That’s the challenge when it comes to food retailers and health and beauty care. “Grocery has great HBC values, but consumers don’t always realize that,” said Lisa Paley, chief customer officer at Pfizer Consumer Healthcare. “The mass and drug channels do great jobs telling consumers about value.”

Her advice to grocery retailers was as simple as it was direct: “The time is now to make the shift,” she emphasized. “Tell them about GM/HBC values like you do about food.”

2. Retail services spell opportunity

Grocery stores have made pharmacy an important part of their proposition, but now many food retailers want to grow their healthcare offerings further. “What is the next pharmacy?” asked Pfizer’s Paley. “Maybe it’s the nutritionist. How do you differentiate as a grocer with additional services?”

3. Disease prevention holds greater promise

There’s an opportunity for food retailers to increase their roles in supporting community health, said Leslie Sarasin, FMI’s president and CEO.

“Food retailers successfully playing in the health-and-wellness space are employing pharmacists, nutritionists, dietitians and, in some cases, even physicians and nurse practitioners,” she said. “… We can step up our positive role in the arena of preventive measures with immunizations, nutrition and diet counseling, and health clinics.”

Sarasin said the industry needs “innovative partnerships that meaningfully integrate food and nutrition into the consumers’ healthcare conversations.” The goal is for society to “transform our view of health care from being about disease management to a more constructive disease-prevention perspective.”

“While others in the country are busy pointing fingers, we need to get busy collaborating with healthcare professionals in new ways, providing our shoppers with health-and-wellness solutions,” she said.

4. Holistic health surges

Retailers not benefitting from the holistic health movement are missing out on a big trend. That’s the word from Sally Lyons Wyatt, EVP and practice leader at IRI. “There’s an increase in consumption of foods that can prevent or manage [such] disease states as heart conditions, cancer and diabetes,” she said. She pointed to increased consumption of citrus fruit by diabetics seeking to lower sugar and raise insulin levels.

Other examples include super foods that deliver protein, vitamins and minerals. “Consumers say they’re focusing on health through food, and we’re seeing it in trends we track at IRI,” she said.

Holistic health will continue to be strong over the next three to five years and will benefit retail businesses, she added.  

“Retailers will increase nutritional services to fuel holistic health. Manufacturers will need to partner with retailers. Consumer education will be important,” she said.

5. Millennials embrace pre-shopping

Reaching younger consumers hinges on finding them before the shopping trip.

That was an emphatic point from Pfizer’s Paley. “If we wait until they’re in the store to reach them, we’ll be too late,” she said. “They will be the pre-shop game changers. They determine what they need to know before they get into the store. So we need to engage them differently in the pre-shop part of their journey. Then we can look at the post-shop.”

6. Ad clutter challenging retailers

“There’s a surge in ad exposures that consumers see,” said IRI’s Wyatt. The challenge is to break through the clutter to reach consumers in meaningful ways, she said.

“Starbucks and CVS created their own apps,” she said. “On the CVS app you can order prescriptions and find deals. Retailers want to get to 1:1 personalization.”

7. Social responsibility drives sales

About 70% of FMI industry survey respondents pointed to social and environmental responsibility as a way to differentiate their businesses, according to Sarasin. “Our trends data and other research performed indicate these will continue to become crucial points in your game plan to establish, build and maintain customer loyalty,” she said.

Steven Ramsey, IRI’s EVP, said social responsibility isn’t just a commitment to do the right thing; it’s also a driver of sales. “Strong seafood sustainability programs sell more seafood,” he said. “Animal welfare innovation is noticed by customers.”

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