Natural Foods Merchandiser

Five ways to win over wannabe biggest losers

Shaking her booty in a size 10 pair of Calvins, Oprah Winfrey pushed a wheelbarrow piled with 67 pounds of jiggling fat onstage in 1988 to celebrate her 67-pound weight loss. Last December, in a confession that trumped cabinet-appointment headlines in some outlets, Winfrey admitted she put back on those pounds and weighs in at 200.

If Oprah, with her army of chefs, personal trainers and coaches, can't do it, can anyone?

You can help. And, by targeting the needs of shoppers trying to lose weight, you can increase your bottom line and customer loyalty.

At first glance, focusing on dieters might seem like a (money) losing proposition. They are going to eat—and buy—less to lose weight, right? Actually, dieters strive to eat more of the right things. Plus, they're often hunting for specialty items to make lower-calorie recipes taste better.

Fifty-seven percent of all grocery shoppers live in a household where someone's trying to slim down, according to the Food Marketing Institute's U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2008. Most people (57 percent) try to lose weight their own way, independent of formalized diets, according to the FMI report.

"Americans are leaning away from fad diets and quick weight-loss attempts and more toward preventative nutrition," says Jessica Lee, R.D., manager of nutrition communications at the Calorie Control Council, an Atlanta-based nonprofit representing the low-calorie food industry, which publishes an annual dieting-trend report. "Consumers are really starting to understand the connection between quality nutrition and well-being and healthfulness in their quest for weight loss," she says. This gels with the economic-related trend that has shoppers seeking more bang for the buck. Dieters are looking to lose weight with foods that will also keep them healthy, saving them money on doctors' visits and missed work.

Here are five ways to help dieting shoppers.

Losing figures
The old-school weight-loss method of counting calories is back in vogue. Forget carbs, people want to know how many calories are in a given item. Help your customers do the math by including calorie counts on signage.

Dieters may view walking through certain sections of your store like walking through a minefield of morsels that will explode into pounds on their thighs. "If there's no calories on it, I just assume it's fattening," says chef Devin Alexander, a weight-loss veteran who has maintained a 55-pound loss and is author of The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook (Rodale, 2008) and The Most Decadent Diet Ever (Random House, 2008). "When people are trying to lose weight, that is their priority above [buying] organic. The calorie counts can truly become an obsession. If there aren't calories on something, they just don't go there." Marking a few key foods, "would make people feel safer," she says.

Be their personal chef
Your shoppers might not have Oprah's personal chef, but they do have your prepared foods. "Stores don't realize that they can make low-fat dishes that taste just as delicious as ‘regular' dishes," Alexander says.

Highlighting just a few dishes in your cases would be an enormous help and draw for dieters, she says. Alexander cautions stores to be picky if they hire dietitians to advise them on lower-calorie recipes. "Make sure you hire a dietician with culinary training, or a chef to help consult," she says. Anyone can substitute applesauce or yogurt into recipes, but it takes a chef to create a low-fat dish that truly tastes great. Be sure to sample these foods so shoppers can discover how delicious they are.

Size up—and down—servings
"100-calorie packs are one of the greatest changes of the decade," says nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association who has been advising dieters for three decades. Now, people can see exactly how large a portion size should be, she says. More and more natural products manufacturers are offering the little goody bags. Offer single-serving packs from your bakery, suggests Alexander. "When people are going to indulge, they should go for something they really love," she says. And taking home a single piece of chocolate cake is much "safer" than buying a whole one for someone who might fall off the wagon and into the cake plate.

Fatten up your online menu
One of the hottest accessories this season? A gizmo called a bodybugg, a nifty armband that calculates how many calories you burn. Dieters plug the bugg into their computers, enter what they've eaten and have access to all kinds of calculations. The 24 Hour Fitness website was completely sold out of them at press time. "Expanding use of personal online dieting tools is another of our trends for 2009," says Lee of the Calorie Control Council. Your store's website could link to a calorie counter or provide low-calorie recipes, she suggests.

Provide signage that explains why a certain food works well for weight loss, suggests Taub-Dix. For example, you could post information in your dairy department about recent studies that suggest dairy helps burn fat. The FMI survey shows that 44 percent of shoppers incorporated a new food into their diets within a month of the survey in order to make their diets healthier. Help shoppers find new foods. And, "low-calorie cooking classes and demos are always a hit," Alexander says.

“Watch Your Weight” endcap displays that integrate weight-management supplements with healthy snacks, foods, fitness books, tapes and even equipment like yoga mats can help consumers understand a lifestyle approach to proper weight management, says Bob Green, president of West Caldwell, N.J.-based Nutratech, manufacturers of Advantra Z, a weight-loss-supplement ingredient.

Waist-management manuals

Though most people create their own weight-loss plans, according to FMI, millions still go by the book. Here's what they were buying at press time based on sales, and a bit about their losing lingo.

Eat This, Not That! Thousands of Simple Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds or More. David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding (Rodale, 2007).

Though this book by Men's Health editors may be best known for suggesting the healthiest items to order at McDonald's and Cinnabon, it also promotes healthy choices at the market, advocating lean protein and "eight foods you should eat every day," including spinach, yogurt, black beans and oats.

Flat Belly Diet! Liz Vaccariello and Cynthia Sass (Rodale, 2008). The Prevention editors tell readers to blast belly fat with "the magic of MUFAs," monounsaturated fatty acids found in olive oil, avocados and nuts, which they recommend eating at every meal to melt away middles.

Skinny Bitch. A no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous! Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin (Running Press, 2005). A former model and modeling agent penned this vegan manifesto that reads like chick lit with tips like "Soda is liquid Satan." They promote whole grains, fruit and veggies in sassier-than-thou prose.

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