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10 things natural foods stores can do to battle obesity

10 things natural foods stores can do to battle obesity

Food phenoms Hot Cheetos and Takis (catch the video here if you haven’t seen it), supersized sodas, and all of those other colorful packages of processed fats and fillers shouldn’t take sole blame for the childhood obesity epidemic.

All of us in the food business—and that includes the natural foods industry—can do a better job addressing the health of our nation’s children. And that includes health food stores, too.

“Retailers are mostly off the radar screen on this issue, yet they have an enormous potential to assist shoppers with healthier selections, especially busy moms,” said Nancy Childs, PhD, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “This is a great opportunity to connect with an important and valuable shopper group through social media and apps, as well as the methods explored in this study.”

The study Childs refers to is called “In-store Marketing to Children: US Food Retailer Practices Abating Childhood Obesity.”  It was recently published in Revista Portuguesa De Marketing (Portuguese Journal of Marketing) and presented at a European conference on marketing to children.

In it, Childs explored retailer concerns about obesity and 28 retailer practices toward curbing the epidemic.  

Not surprisingly, limiting displays of high-fat or high-calorie foods received the lowest interest among the identified strategies. Retailers showed the most interest in offering educational nutrition tours for schools or child groups and sponsoring an activity-based event, such as a walk-a-thon or skateboarding showcase.

Mixed messages abound

One person I discussed the report with pointed out Kroger’s dual personality. It has launched a great health push with its new line of organic foods and in-store nutritionist consultations (touted in many ads I’ve been catching on TV lately). But the offerings at a King Soopers gas station appalled her: Red Bull/Monster refrigerator case alongside the Pepsi line on one side, Hot Cheetos, Funyuns, Doritos and Queso Ruffles on the other; and for the sweet tooth, Twinkies (they were still there at the time), Zingers and Donettes. Not a fruit or even a juice existed near the payment kiosk. (I’ll spare you the pictures she took; you get the idea.)

Natural foods stores certainly perform better (even if some offerings mimic traditionally poor food choices). But that doesn’t mean such retailers shouldn’t contribute even more positively to the fight against childhood obesity.

I talked about Childs’ report with Cathy Schmelter of An Ounce of Nutrition over a cup of coffee (my only one that week). She wrote Cutting Thru the Nutritional Jungle; A Survival Guide to Feeding Kids and is piloting an incredible food and nutrition curriculum in several Colorado schools.

Schmelter knows kids. And she knows healthy eating.

As we talked, she took to dreaming big, of a store that focuses solely on kids. But back to reality, here are some practical ideas she shared for retailers. 

10 ways to battle obesity in your store

1. Provide greater access to healthier foods. Have a “we have shrunk our middle aisles” or some kind of campaign like that to promote around-the-perimeter fresh foods.

2. Replace, don’t just eliminate unhealthy food items at check-out. Stock fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds and other healthy foods in this area. Vitamin Cottage does a good job doing so, she said. 

3. Partner with a popular cartoon organization (or local organization with a popular mascot) to develop life-size cartoon characters that share a message about eating fruits and vegetables.

4. Work with a registered dietitian or other nutrition expert on the most nutritious foods to promote to children.

 5. Start a specially targeted healthy food offerings Facebook page or Twitter feed. Take it in store with a “fresh is best” social marketing campaign throughout the store.

6. Provide nutrition tips and healthy recipes throughout the store.  

7. Lower the price of the most nutritious foods or offer coupons/reward discount cards.  

8. Provide kid-run cooking demos of in-season fruits and vegetables.

 9. Offer taste tests, including comparisons between boxed and real foods (for example, compare boxed mac and cheese vs. from scratch).

10. Use high school students who elementary students admire to lead shopping tours.

I love Schmelter’s ideas and the work Childs (who wasn’t available to talk) has been doing for years.

What ideas have you used in your store? Please share below.

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