Are grocers falling short in selling better-for-you foods?

Photo: RetailWire
Sep 18, 2019
Denise Leathers

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine.

Integrated sections, in-store signage and informed staff are three ways sales of better-for-you products can be maximized inside grocery stores. 

While some retailers are reluctant to place a higher-priced organic product next to a significantly less expensive non-organic one, Bob DiNunzio, director of category solutions at Daymon, says retailers should give shoppers more credit. “Consumers are smart and want to choose what’s right for them, so allow them to shop all potential items, no matter what the claim on the box, without having to leave the aisle,” he said.

High-traffic end caps and secondary displays — as well as grab and-go sections — can be used to introduce new products or try out new trends without resetting an entire category.

To help consumers find better-for-you products, shelf tags and signage can highlight products that are organic/natural, gluten-free, plant-based, local, etc. 

Those tools can be used to educate, as well. A Giant supermarket we visited for a recent story featured a sign above a case full of the chain’s Nature’s Promise frozen shrimp explaining exactly how it defines “free from.” Several retailers offer signage in the egg set to explain the difference between terms like cage-free, organic, pasture-raised and free-range. Much more, however, is needed. A recent report from Acosta found that in-store signage is the second-most important source of product information for natural and organic shoppers (after product packaging), so it’s clear consumers are relying on retailers to do what small manufacturers with small advertising budgets can’t.

That said, plenty of big manufacturers in the better-for-you space are ready, willing and able to help educate both consumers and, importantly, staff. While consumers are accustomed to going online for information, there is a need for well-trained and informed staff. “There are aspects of wellness and food that will benefit from human interaction,” said Melissa Abbott, VP of retainer services for The Hartman Group.

In-store dietitians can run point on consumer education around better-for-you and should be prominently featured in signage, mailers, online, etc. In store pharmacists can also be educated about healthy eating so they can recommend foods.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should the in-store merchandising and selling of better-for-you foods in grocery stores differ from conventional foods? What’s the best way to educate consumers and staff?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Helping the shopper to 'deselect' the products she doesn’t want and zero in on what she needs is the first step."
"At the end of the day, education is key."
"Let’s not overthink this. If customers are reading the information, they are selecting from it what they feel is most relevant to them … right or wrong."

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14 Comments on "Are grocers falling short in selling better-for-you foods?"

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Dr. Stephen Needel

We’ve done plenty of research that says creating “better for you” sections is not necessarily a good idea from a sales perspective. In a number of studies, combining categories into one larger area actually hurts sales. On the second point, I’m not sure it’s the store’s job to educate consumers, although having a knowledgeable staff couldn’t hurt. But I don’t need the store or the staff shaming me when I opt for my Devil Dogs instead of some fruit.

Jeff Weidauer

I respectfully disagree. As food sellers, I believe it is absolutely the store’s job to educate consumers. It’s good for business, differentiates, and creates loyalty.

Bob Andersen

Maybe it will evolve to where one food category is all stocked in the same aisle, but healthier products are simply grouped together. Shoppers can then easily locate their preference with no additional signage needed. The cereal aisle seems to be going in that direction in some stores.

Jeff Sward

Visual merchandising can boil down to one very simple rule. “Important and obvious.” If it’s important, tell me why. Is the retailer making the important attribute obvious? How? Better-for-you may require more information, but that can quickly go on overload. “Important” needs to be “obvious” and, yes, that will probably be a little different for some product categories versus others — whether it’s groceries or apparel or home improvement, etc.

Bob Phibbs

While I get that signage can help – most of the signage given in this article is like a label. Organic in particular needs to step up to explain what the heck that means to the planet. I’d consider something like, “Want your kids to live to see a healthier planet? Choose organic.” You have to sell the why and the sizzle more than ingredients or exceptions – we’re talking food, not a set of tires for the car.

Tony Orlando

I believe it should stand in its own section and, if you have the right clientele, it should do well. I did this about eight years ago and, unfortunately, even though I discounted the product from the get-go, the folks in our area would not spend the money to make it work. I moved a few of the better sellers into the aisle, mixed into the other grocery items and they still sell today. There is demand for healthy alternatives, but make sure your provide a value because the mega stores and Aldi carry these items. I would make sure that you are in the same ballpark on pricing if you want to move the product. Post the product on your website and Facebook page, and post nutritional info as well. That makes it easy for your customers to shop for the product.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

The article details a variety of in-store ways of highlighting better-for-you products. The debate of placement (integrated v. separate) is analogous to the gluten free placement debate of several years ago. If the better-for-you options are limited, a separate section makes sense. However as the number of products rightfully increases, integration is the more logical approach.

At the end of the day, education is key. At the shelf, packaging, shelf talkers, signage, QR codes, etc. all can contribute to the customer’s knowledge of the benefits of these products. Plus, online education via retailer websites and blogs can play a major role in customer selection of these products.

Jeff Weidauer

Meeting the needs of shoppers who want “better-for-you” products is a challenge for most retailers. Most are now putting these products into the category mix, which often makes finding them difficult for the B4U shopper. Add to that the fact that these items are pushed into the margins: top or bottom shelf and minimal facings, and the result is frustrated shoppers.

Retailers need to put added effort into merchandising these products. Helping the shopper to “deselect” the products she doesn’t want and zero in on what she needs is the first step. Education throughout the store via signage, mobile links and informed, passionate employees will help. But it’s a long-term build that will require ongoing investment – the question is, which retailers will stick it out?

Brandon Rael

Its all about trust and transparency in retail, especially with all the health consciousness in the grocery arena. Today’s educated and empowered consumers know what they are looking for, and they need minimal support from the store associates.

The labeling, presentations and merchandising strategies should clearly distinguish organic/holistic foods from the conventional items.

Steve Montgomery

When shopping people tend to follow established patterns within a store. Having the products integrated means they do not have to seek out areas where better-for-you items are displayed.

I agree with Stephen that the role of the store clerk is not to be a dietitian or nutritionist. That being said having some knowledge of the products would be helpful in pointing customers in the right direction. The store can provide more information to more customers by having the type of signage discussed in the article.

Lee Peterson

This is a great question in that most “health conscious” consumers shop the store brand first; i.e., Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s — and the product brand second. The trust for the store is at a higher level than the department. I had a telling trip with Whole Foods executives once in California where they told me, “California is our toughest market because you have fourth generation health food eaters here.” So Whole Foods was like a Kroger (traditional grocer) to Californians due to the heavy local and regional competition that had been entrenched since the ’60s! That was a tree-hugging epiphany for me.

So given that, of course it’ll help to have better signage and more informative staff, but the positioning of the brand, and even the creation of a sub-brand, is where the real solution is.

Ralph Jacobson

This is definitely all about merchandising for trends. Real trends, not just advertised trends. Just because consumers may be seeing more ads on healthy living, this certainly doesn’t imply that their shopping habits will reflect any move towards healthier foods in-store. We’ve had organics for more than 30 years. And the salty snack aisle still sells out on weekends. Sure, merchandise healthy foods integrated with traditional ones. When the market is ready to adopt, it will.

Zel Bianco

Shoppers need to educate themselves as there are too many details about “better-for-you” foods for the manufacturer and retailer, making it difficult for better signage/integrated categories to be adopted by most retailers outside of the largest ones.

At a natural/organic conference I attended, I was stunned by a slide that compared how materials allowed in organic processed foods compare to materials allowed in all other food. Seventy-nine non-agricultural minor ingredients are allowed in organic processing. More than 3,000 substances comprise everything added to food in the United States. Shoppers need to be aware and I agree with my fellow BrianTrust commentators that you have to give the shopper some credit to know and understand what they want to eat and how much they are willing to spend for a certain items.

Joan Treistman

Effective in-store signage explains what it is that the consumer is looking at so that an appropriate decision can be made. Let’s not overthink this. If customers are reading the information, they are selecting from it what they feel is most relevant to them … right or wrong. Keeping staff up to date on what the store is stocking and why some products fall in the “better-for-you” category makes good sense, especially if customers ask any questions. One risk for grocery stores that don’t categorize their products is that shoppers won’t know what they have and look elsewhere for those better-for-you foods.

"Helping the shopper to 'deselect' the products she doesn’t want and zero in on what she needs is the first step."
"At the end of the day, education is key."
"Let’s not overthink this. If customers are reading the information, they are selecting from it what they feel is most relevant to them … right or wrong."

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