Now is the time for retailers to turn their stores into centers for health and wellness, says Miriam Lueck Avery, research manager at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit research center in Palo Alto, Calif., and coauthor of “The Future of Health and Wellness in Food Retailing,” a study produced by IFTF and the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council. We spoke to Lueck Avery about the study’s findings and what they mean for natural products retailers.
Natural Foods Merchandiser: Your study has identified the grocery store as a wellness resource. Why?
Miriam Lueck Avery: From the time we started this research in 2007, the grocery store’s role as a trusted information resource for shoppers has only grown. In terms of where consumers most frequently turn for health information, supermarkets come in third, behind product packaging and family members. Grocery stores rank higher than newspapers, magazines and even doctors.
Over the past several years, we’ve seen the emergence of actual health clinics in grocery stores. The number of clinics has been accelerating in the past few years as people face greater financial difficulties. We expect in the near future that grocery-store clinics staffed by registered nurse practitioners will become even more important for people who need access to medical care and information that will enable them to make sound lifestyle choices.
NFM: Which current health trends will most affect the traditional retail model?
MLA: Over the next 10 years, more Americans will develop not only one but multiple chronic diseases. This means that the extent to which people can expect to be “healthy,” in the technical sense of the word, is really decreasing. Instead, people will strive for “wellness” in whatever state of health they’re in. Every shopper will seek something a little different, so instead of just a few specialized foods for particular illnesses, retailers will need to provide broader offerings to support diverse wellness goals.
NFM: What new resources will most enable retailers to help customers achieve their wellness goals?
MLA: We’re seeing cheaper, more accurate and more accessible over-the-counter diagnostic technologies emerge that will provide people with more granular visions of their own biology. In addition, social networks built around nutritional capacities are on the horizon. One sort of out-there example is My Microbes (my.microbes.eu), a social network for people with the same gut flora. Although somewhat extreme and very exclusive, it’s representative of the types of social networks we’ll see more of in the future.
NFM: Will we continue to see lines blur between what natural foods retailers have traditionally provided and what conventional retailers will begin offering?
MLA: Absolutely. But the key for natural retailers who’ve been around for a long time is that they’ve already established relationships and built trust. As a result, natural products retailers have the upper hand and are in a much better position to effectively provide these kinds of wellness services.