Should grocers be teaching Americans how to eat?

Source: "The Clean Plate" - Earth Fare
Jan 08, 2018
Tom Ryan

Doubling down on its mission to educate consumers on how to eat right, Earth Fare, the natural and organic food retailer, last week introduced the first edition of its quarterly healthy lifestyle magazine, “The Clean Plate.”

The introduction comes one year after Earth Fare launched its “Live Longer with Earth Fare” campaign that challenged “the entire grocery industry to come ‘Clean’” and encourage healthier eating habits.

Earth Fare stands out for its Food Philosophy commitment to having all the products free of high fructose corn syrup, artificial fats and trans-fats, artificial colors, artificial preservatives, artificial sweeteners and never made with administered antibiotics or growth hormones.

The first edition includes articles on “Why Clean Food Matters,” “How To Avoid GMOs,” as well as others detailing the dangers of consuming animal products treated with antibiotics, the benefits of plants and water, and importance of eco-friendly cleaning supplies. “Why it Matters” sections across the pages provide a quick summation of the benefits of each healthier food choice.

Earth Fare’s unique positioning and solutions are detailed throughout the pages, as well as information on its private labels, along with a few deals. The first edition is available in stores and online.

Other grocers also have blogs and a few have magazines, but the content generally includes recipes, broader food trends and other lifestyle topics beyond just healthy eating advice.

Earth Fare’s magazine arrives amid a strong trend toward natural and organic products and heightened expectations for food quality and safety. Last week, Dunkin’ Donuts indicated it was eliminating artificial coloring from its donuts, joining a number of food brands embracing “clean” ingredients.

An article in Adweek following Dunkin’ Donuts’ move, however, showed that “clean” eating may be more of a niche opportunity. Risks for brands ditching artificial ingredients include the possibility of higher costs and more complex sourcing for natural ingredients and disappointing consumers with the reformulations. Wrote Robert Klara for Adweek, “It’s too early to tell if consumers will reward brands making these changes with increased purchases.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should educating consumers about eating healthier become a bigger part of all food retailer’s outreach efforts or limited to organic and natural grocers? What risks and opportunities do you see in tying “clean” eating to a retail food brand’s image?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"It depends on your consumer and your positioning."
"I guess it depends what the grocer feels its core value proposition is and the amount of square footage available."
"It’s not about educating consumers, but merchandising your products and brand. It’s about presenting a relatable brand and products to consumers."

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18 Comments on "Should grocers be teaching Americans how to eat?"

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Paula Rosenblum

I guess it depends what the grocer feels its core value proposition is and the amount of square footage available. Eating healthier and eating specialty items may not always go together.

For “natural” (a meaningless word, by the way), and organics, of course it makes sense. For Family Dollar, not so much.

Dr. Stephen Needel

I agree with Paula – this makes sense for a Sprouts, Whole Foods, Earth Fare, etc. – it’s what their shoppers want and it’s what they carry. If Kroger started in, I’d be asking why they carry Hostess Cupcakes (bless them) and I’d be skeptical of their healthy pitch. It’s not the retailer’s job to educate unless you are a natural/organic retailer. It doesn’t hurt to say, “Here’s why we offer organic products,” but I’d be careful how strongly you pitch that as your raison d’etre.

Ed Dunn
2 years 16 days ago

CVS’s decision to stop carrying tobacco and effort to purchase Aetna insurance is an indicator and writing on the wall. More and more doctors are advising their patients on diet management and what foods to eat. CVS and Walgreens are fighting to become the go-to place for diabetes and other health/wellness care. These activities will eventually crawl into the purchasing decisions at grocery stores.

Seth Nagle

Yes, we’ve heard from a number of focus groups that shoppers want to eat healthier, live healthier and overall be healthier; but what the shopper says they want and what they are willing to buy are sometimes two completely different things (see: Trix bringing back artificial colors in 2017).

One advantage of promoting healthier eating and cooking is helping define/attract a certain type of shopper. Once marketing understands who is shopping at the store and their expectations they can start to create niche messaging and campaigns that can resonate with the shopper and build a stronger bond.

Max Goldberg

I think the opportunity is limited to organic and natural grocers, whose customers are pre-inclined to a healthier lifestyle. Mainstream grocers risk alienating consumers and manufacturers by identifying “good” and “bad” foods.

Ben Ball

It depends on your consumer and your positioning. In this case, Earth Fare has pretty consistently positioned itself as one step (or two) past Whole Foods on the eco-friendly food scale. Its shopper profile reflects that appeal. Pretty simple.

As for how many more donuts will be consumed at Dunkin Donuts due to removing artificial ingredients — not so much.

Brandon Rael

Healthy living and the right lifestyle choices are all the rage these days. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s consumers expect further education and knowledge. However, this strategy wouldn’t necessarily work at all mass market grocery retailers.

Consumers have evolved and are empowered and educated to the point where they can distinguish between “natural” and “organic” products. So this would only add value to those already focusing on lifestyle and organic living. Grocery businesses can take full advantage of the move to organics by sharing cooking ideas and what’s trending, as well as what the latest research is.

The next phase for the organic grocers is to fully integrate the physical and digital experience. Once they tie it together to product promotions, powered by insights, engaging mobile apps offering personalization and real-time advice, then you have a very compelling offering that’s hard to beat!

Shep Hyken

Education is part of the customer experience. Teach the customer what they want and why they want it. Then sell it to them. I believe grocers have already been doing this, at least to some degree. With the health-conscious consumer, it is a disservice not to deliver some education.

Meaghan Brophy
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
2 years 16 days ago

I guess it depends on how altruistic the company is. I say yes, all food retailers should take some level of responsibility in promoting healthy choices. But, for many grocers, selling processed name-brand foods is still very profitable. Many retailers probably won’t be willing to jeopardize those profits.

Lee Kent

It’s about giving your customer what they want. If they are into clean eating then yes, otherwise it is a waste of time and marketing dollars. For my 2 cents.

Ralph Jacobson

Of course there is a lot of press and marketing inundation of trendy, healthy things to eat. And yes, there’s a growing market for this. However there are still far more marketing impressions daily for not-so-healthy fast foods that will be very much the norm for the majority of consumers for the foreseeable future.

Helping educate consumers is definitely a positive move, and it will only help reach a wider audience. However, I would not do this to the detriment of your core brand if that core brand is still paying the bills.

Gene Detroyer

Teaching Americans how to eat? I don’t think so. How about if the grocer just keeps the manufacturers honest in their labeling, promotion and ingredients? then let the people decide what they want to eat.

Ricardo Belmar

This really depends oh what the retailer is all about. If healthy eating and living are core to their brand, then absolutely they should be actively pursuing this trend with their customers. At the same time, if you’re more like Burger King, you may see an opportunity to go in the other direction! The smart retailer is going to evaluate the knowledge they have about their customers and compare it against their brand values and decide from there how to execute on this trend.

Jeff Hall

Consumer education around healthy eating options need not be an all-or-nothing position for grocery retailers. Without question, those with a primary focus on natural and organic products will find education a natural extension to their customer engagement initiatives.

There is opportunity, however, with brands not typically associated with healthy eating as a core focus, such as Aldi and their new vegetarian and vegan offerings, where retailers can educate around a narrower, more curated product set and in turn establish customer goodwill.

Peter Luff

It’s for the wider society to decide if we should drive towards healthy eating. If that’s what society wants and the prevailing wind is in that direction, then it certainly makes sense for mainstream retailers to leverage that desire and enthusiasm.

Carlos Arambula

It’s not about educating consumers, it’s about merchandising your products and brand. It’s about presenting a relatable brand and products to consumers.

While Earth Fare and similar format grocers have existing consumers who understand and favor their brand proposition, I’m certain the grocers want to grow beyond their core consumers. Merchandising their fare will bring new customers into the franchise who might feel intimidated by their format.

The aforementioned also applies to food retailers like Dunkin’ Donuts and fast food restaurants, although it is done for a different reason: evolve or die.

Diet trends are towards healthier diets, and if Dunkin Donuts and their ilk fail to merchandise their “healthier” fares, consumers will simply abandon them like they abandoned the fried chicken fast food restaurants.

The only risk is lack of action.

Craig Sundstrom

My short answer is “no,” at least if “educating” is to be in the form shown here … which I would categorize more as “propagandizing” (Are “natural” and “organic” better for everyone or are they naïve ideas that will squander resources … or, more importantly, can a store really address a complex issue like this on its shelves?)

Stores already provide nutritional information via the labels on products, and we have newspapers and magazines to provide info to people on how to make use of that. If, after all these years, someone still thinks a healthy snack is a bag of chips and a six-pack of soda, maybe it’s better that natural selection takes them out … naturally.

Molly Nichols

If large grocery stores started telling shoppers how they should be eating, there would be a lot of food left on their shelves. Organic and natural grocers appeal to a small niche and by giving nutrition tips and aids will help build their customer base and following. Big stores just can’t do that since they offer such a wide variety of items.

"It depends on your consumer and your positioning."
"I guess it depends what the grocer feels its core value proposition is and the amount of square footage available."
"It’s not about educating consumers, but merchandising your products and brand. It’s about presenting a relatable brand and products to consumers."

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