I recently had the good fortune to attend and speak at the FMI Health and Wellness Conference. I always look forward to attending FMI events. They are one of the best events I’m aware of that allow all corners of the supermarket industry to share their view of the world. The new health and wellness format of this show is particularly inspiring, as it demonstrates the industry’s increasing commitment towards health and wellness. At this stage, health and wellness is fairly well understood to be a strategic initiative for supermarket. The national debate over the health care crisis has raised the awareness level of all parties: retailers, suppliers, government agencies and most importantly consumers. It is now commonly known that 1 in 3 children are projected to have type 2 diabetes, a condition that is largely preventable, by the year 2050. As the keynote speaker Dr. Katz so poignantly stated, our country is on the verge of bankrupting itself in the name of overeating; and most of it is preventable. Eighty percent of heart disease is preventable; so is ninety percent of type 2 diabetes. The secret formula? Controlling our forks and our feet. By simply paying more attention to the foods we eat and the lifestyle choices we make (read: exercise), we can eat our way out of the same problem, eating got us into.
This can seem like a simple equation. For some of us it is, but for many it isn’t. This was underscored by another presentation at the event that I really enjoyed; Cary Silvers presentation titled ”shopping for health”. As you may know, Cary is a regular presenter at FMI events and for good reason. Not only is he a great presenter. His presentations are always packed with the latest consumer attitudes on health, foods and how those two topics intersect in the supermarket. I’ve seen Cary’s presentations from shows past. What strikes me every time is the huge gap between consumer intent and consumer action.
Let’s face it. Despite our best intentions it’s hard to follow through. It’s hard to change our habits. Particularly in a store setting where the amount of options can be dizzying and the amount of time we tend to give ourselves, can set us up for rushing through the shopping trip. Combine that with trying to juggle the wants of a family and our incessant sweet tooth steering us towards sugary foods and it’s no wonder we’re in the mess we’re in.
So how do we turn the tide? And how do we take advantage of the opportunity and serve our customers? Because in the heart of every problem lies an opportunity, and in this case the opportunity is huge. Billions of dollars huge. We know the need is there. The desire is there too. The real question is execution. More specifically, it’s about changing …. drum roll please… you guessed it… habits. In a recent Duke study, researchers found that the #1 factor to changing habits wasn’t willpower. It was the enviornment we find ourselves in. It turns out that when a shopper enters our stores, the sights, smells, sounds, people, signage, information, you name it is the greatest driver of future behavior. Despite our best intentions, there is a seemingly unconscious response that is repeating a long established pattern.
Now, let me be clear. I’m not at all absolving any responsibility on the part of the shopper. We are all responsible for our own choices. Our society affords us a wonderful set of freedoms. However, placed in the context of the question at hand, namely why is it so hard for shoppers to make healthy choices, we can start to pull at the thread of the problem.
In order for us to help shoppers make healthy choices and truly differentiate our stores as a healthy destination, we need to change the environments we create for them to shop in. In short, health and wellness is more than a campaign. It’s more than offering nutrition classes or offering links to health resources. It’s more than adding a healthy living department or providing better nutriton information at the shelf. It’s re-thinking how we go to market from top to bottom. It’s re-constructing an environment that for the most part has been constructed to get shoppers to eat more of the stuff they don’t need. And it’s walking in the shoes of our shoppers and holding their hand as they navigate the aisles of our stores and the pages of our websites for recommendations on healthy options. Most of all, it’s changing habits. The habits of our shoppers and our own habits too.