Natural Foods Merchandiser

The Zen of healthy lifestyle products

Besides wanting what goes in and on their bodies to be healthful, your customers are also concerned about what they do with their bodies—that is, they know that getting exercise is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

According to a March 2003 study published in American Family Physician, ?More than 60 percent of U.S. adults are now overweight or obese, predisposing more than 97 million Americans to a host of chronic diseases and conditions. Physical activity has a positive effect on weight loss, total body fat and body fat distribution, as well as maintenance of favorable body weight and change in body composition.? Furthermore, participation in activities that interest natural foods shoppers, such as yoga, Pilates and tai chi, is on the rise. Consider these facts from the North American Studio Alliance:

  • A 2001 study by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association shows that Pilates, tai chi and yoga are by far the exercise activities with the highest rate of growth. According to that study, Pilates training grew 40 percent to 2.4 million practitioners in the United States in 2001, while yoga and tai chi combined grew 32 percent to 9.7 million.
  • Results of a Harris Interactive poll published by Yoga Journal in June 2003 show that 15 million Americans practiced yoga during the previous year, and participation in yoga grew by 28 percent that same year.
  • Americans now spend an estimated $27 billion annually on yoga products.
  • Including home-based self-teaching, an estimated 35 million to 40 million North Americans were involved in a wellness activity by the end of 2003.

It looks like the time is right to market fitness products to health-conscious shoppers. But how do these products fit into a grocery store environment? Sabine Anderson, national sales director for the natural foods industry at Naturaljourneys, a Camarillo, Calif., producer of workout videos and DVDs in a variety of disciplines, including belly dance, yoga, tai chi and Pilates, believes that offering fitness and lifestyle products at a natural foods store shows customers how to bring wellness into other areas of their lives.

?Customers look for a one-stop shopping experience at their natural foods store, and because of the media and education, more and more people are beginning to understand that if you want to have a fully balanced and healthy lifestyle, you have to incorporate things that address your physical and emotional needs along with good eating habits,? Anderson says.

Sarah Chambers, founder of Hugger-Mugger, a yoga products company based in Salt Lake City, agrees. ?Natural markets and fitness products form a good partnership because they cater to like-minded individuals—people that are concerned with eating well are concerned with their health, and generally have knowledge of yoga and fitness.?

Anderson also stresses the importance of selling fitness items that shoppers can use at home. ?People like working out at home because it?s a sanctuary. They may not feel comfortable in a class or may not be able to afford a gym, but if they can work out at home, a whole new area of life is opened up to them,? she says. According to a survey by Simmons Research Bureau, the majority of people who exercise do so at home—making fitness tools a necessity to their workout routines. The survey of approximately 192 million adults found that 22.5 percent exercise at home, while only 13.5 percent do so at a gym. In addition, Anderson says, ?When you buy a DVD, you?re getting a lot of extras for your money, like bonus workouts, nutrition advice, weight-loss guides, motivational tips and interaction.?

Another major consideration when stocking fitness and lifestyle products in a natural foods store is how to effectively display them and avoid creating a cumbersome and crowded space. Anderson believes that retailers ?must create a focal point? to make a lifestyle section work. She suggests investing in a display rack to show off the merchandise in a way that is organized, convenient and allows the customer to see every option available. ?Merchandising media is not always easy if you don?t have the proper shelving,? Anderson says, noting that Naturaljourneys has developed two special DVD and exercise equipment display racks that have helped her company?s sales increase 50 percent over the last four years. The smaller display requires just one shelf, while the larger also holds workout tools, such as yoga mats and fitness balls.

Gaiam, a Broomfield, Colo.-based ?mind-body-health media and accessories? company, also has display racks. ?We offer both permanent and temporary shelving options. If retailers are new to selling fitness media, they tend to use the temporary one, which is quick to install and aggressively promotes the product with some sort of header,? says Byron Freeney, director of marketing.

Using a rack to organize merchandise also allows retailers to change and rearrange programs easily, depending on customer demand or other marketing opportunities. ?Retailers should pay attention to demographics. If they?re in an urban area, dance videos might sell better than they would somewhere else,? Anderson says. She also suggests using the fitness products to help market other items. ?Place the DVD rack next to weight-loss supplements, and you?ll see sales rise on both products.?

Kay Ramsley, director of sales and retail at Hugger-Mugger, believes that besides having a good display system, retailers need to keep up with new trends to successfully market lifestyle products. ?Stay on top of innovative products and fitness programs, as well as fashionable seasonal colors,? she says. ?We?ve seen an increase in interest in Bikram yoga, so we?ve designed a mat made for hot environments that absorbs sweat but doesn?t get slippery.? Ramsley has also noticed that Yogalates, a combination of yoga and Pilates, is turning into a popular trend, and advises that retailers carry both yoga and Pilates props to satisfy customer demand.

Offering fitness and lifestyle products in your store will reaffirm your customers? beliefs in the importance of a healthy and well-rounded lifestyle. ?People like to discover things,? Freeney says. ?The sense of discovery that goes with finding [fitness or lifestyle] products in an unexpected place like a natural foods store creates an automatic connection between healthy food and healthy lifestyle products. They?re natural complements.?

Christine Spehar is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colo.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 5/p. 36, 40

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