Natural Foods Merchandiser

Stores Can Help With Nutritional Heavy Lifting

Selling Smart

If typical natural products customers take good care of themselves, in general, those who are baby boomers do so to a much greater degree. But your boomer customers are starting to discover that basic supplements, a good diet and plenty of exercise just aren't enough to stave off the effects of aging.

These folks were losing muscle tone at a rate of 4 percent each decade until they reached age 40, when loss of muscle tone jumped to 10 percent per decade and it started getting harder and harder to keep the weight off and the back straight.

And retailers who acknowledge their best customers' newest worries can boost sales by providing new products and relevant information that helps satisfy their changing needs and desires.

Based on what we know about natural products consumers, more than half are between the ages of 45 and 70. According to industry surveys, those customers read labels and value information. They are unlikely to smoke or drink alcohol to excess. They take supplements, watch their diets and exercise.

In fact, your boomer customers make up a significant percentage of those working out today. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association estimates 54 percent of the 33 million health-club members in the United States are 35 or older. And sports supplementation and nutrition is big business across the board. Nutrition Business Journal estimates that in 2001, sports nutrition and weight-loss products accounted for $10 billion in sales of supplements and functional foods. Sales of sports supplements alone grew 9 percent to $1.7 billion.

As your aging customers begin to experience muscle and skeletal problems, they are quickly learning the importance of working with weights. "More and more of my boomer patients are taking up resistance training," says Elizabeth Peterson, a chiropractor in Greenfield, Mass. Resistance training aids in building and maintaining bone mass, particularly in the hip and spine, and contributes to cardiovascular health.

This presents an opportunity. Brian Lothrop, nutrition manager at Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, Mass., has seen "an increasing interest among the boomer generation in products related to resistance training." Suellen Duga, owner of Choice Health in Westfield, Mass., who recently spoke at her new fitness center on protein supplementation, says she anticipates interest in resistance training will continue to grow.

But resistance training is more valueable with nutritional support. As a retailer, you are the most likely resource for that support. Sports nutrition stores are focused on 20-, 30- and 40-year-olds who want to add muscle bulk. This customer group doesn't fit the naturals demographic and isn't necessarily concerned about ingredients. Your customers have different needs.

Boomers want lean, toned muscles. They may not be meat eaters and may be looking for a protein supplement.

"I don't eat meat or dairy. I read labels and I lift weights," says Arlene Robbins, a natural products consumer and devoted resistance trainer. "I look to my natural products retailer to offer me nutritional guidance."

As the primary nutritional resource for customers like Robbins, you are expected to provide the necessary information. You have access to knowledge that allows you to serve their needs. You can inform them, for example, that in a recent study, subjects taking the marine algae astaxanthin demonstrated almost three times the strength and endurance of a control group. Conjugated linoleic acid helps reduce body fat and increase muscle tone. Protein supplementation is most effective taken within an hour of exercise. This is information your customers want; they will also want to get these and other products from you.

Don't let this customer need go untapped. While your customers are building strength, you'll be building strength in sales.

Former NNFA-East executive director Peter Farber is the principal of Loyal Customer, a marketing/merchandising program for retailers. He may be reached at [email protected].

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 1/p. 24

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