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Case Study: Shoppers seek health guidance

Is your seafood department saying all it can about seafood and health?

By Lisa Duchene
March 01, 2007

Dorothy Lane Markets in Dayton, Ohio, has for several years given its health-conscious customers lots of options when they want more information about seafood. They can consult a poster in the seafood department to find out the amount of protein, calories and omega-3 fatty acids in the fresh fish. They can ask a clerk behind the counter. Or they can consult several articles in "DLM Market Report," Dorothy Lane's monthly mailed newsletter, or "Fresh News," the retailer's weekly e-mail, which both explain why fish is a good-for-you super-food.

In the last few months, the three-unit retailer has encouraged its customers to "Eat Real Food," with in-store signage and flyers promoting food in its natural state.

Dorothy Lane is ahead of the curve and has thought of just about everything, according to two recent reports indicating that health, nutrition and wellness are chief concerns among grocery shoppers, who are looking to supermarkets for guidance on healthful food options.

Many supermarkets are trying to help consumers eat better, says Bill Greer, spokesman for the Food Marketing Institute in Washington, D.C.

"[Supermarkets] want to position themselves as the source of healthful foods, and that would extend to produce as well as seafood and organic products," he says.

Eighty-three percent of shoppers overall - and 93 percent of shoppers 65 and older - associate fish with healthful eating, according to FMI's report "U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends, 2006," detailing results of a January 2006 survey of 2,001 American grocery shoppers.

About two-thirds of survey respondents said their store provides nutrition and health information and 55 percent use it between once a week and once a month. The availability of nutrition and health information is a very important factor in selecting the primary grocery store for 27 percent of those surveyed.

But health concerns do not trump price, as 60 percent of shoppers always check the price of a new-to-them product, while 47 percent always check the nutrition labels.

Consumers also look to their grocery store for cooking classes on healthful meal preparation. They look for signs indicating foods that are healthful and can help them with disease management. They also want to see information on diet and weight loss and be alerted of nutrition-savvy staff members, according to "Shopping for Health 2006: Making Healthy Eating Even Easier," an annual survey of U.S. supermarket shoppers conducted by FMI and Rodale, publisher of Prevention, Men's Health and Women's Health magazines.

"We've been doing all of the above except the weight loss part," says Jack Gridley, Dorothy Lane's director of meat and seafood. The "Eat Real Food" promotion is simply the latest twist, he says. For several years, Dorothy Lane has posted signs about healthy food options, provided nutrition training for its staff, offered nutrition-related articles in newsletters, taught seafood preparation in its cooking school and held seafood demos three to four times a week.

The broad effort has been successful, says Gridley, who notices consumers are more interested than ever in health-related information.

Most Americans are trying to eat more seafood and less carbohydrates, according to the FMI/Rodale report. Among its other key findings:

• Getting their kids to eat more seafood is the one health-related strategy with which parents struggle the most;

• Among 14 weight-maintenance strategies listed, "eat more fish and seafood" saw the biggest gain over the previous year among supermarket shoppers who report they or their families are trying to maintain a healthy weight.

The data adds up to opportunity, says Cary Silvers, Rodale's director of consumer and advertising trends, since one-third of principal shoppers, an estimated 41 million people, are ready to eat healthier.

"Who's going to claim them? The diet guys? I think that's where supermarkets have a tremendous opportunity because [shoppers] go there every week."

Silvers recommends grocers adopt a "guerrilla mentality" when it comes to highlighting health for shoppers. Most trips to the supermarket are not weekly stock-ups, but quick trips for specific items, says Silvers, so shoppers may not even pass the seafood department.

"Save some retail space up front to highlight and profile elements in the store like healthy eating," says Silvers. That spot could feature the health aspects of seafood one week, then healthful frozen products another, she notes.

Joyce Mallonee of Mallonee & Associates, a Lafayette, Calif., food merchandising and branding consultant, disagrees that the front of the store is the best place to highlight healthful options. People are already bombarded there. Rather, health guidance should be integrated in each department, she says.

Rarely is the seafood case well-signed, she says. Highlight omega-3s and display as much nutritional information alongside the product as possible, says Mallonee.

Giant Food Stores in th e Mid-Atlantic takes thi s integrated approach. A magazine with health-related suggestions is available in all stores, as are recipes, says Tracy Pawelski, spokesman for Giant, in Carlisle, Pa. Many Giant stores have chefs and nutrition-cooking classes and two have nutritionists.

Customers can meet with the nutritionist for $20. They receive nearly as much back in coupons for healthy food, says Pawelski.

Yet all this interest among consumers still hasn't helped Americans beat back the bulge. About two-thirds of American adults are overweight and one-third is obese.

"People are much more aware that they should be eating healthier and much smarter about doing it," says Silvers. "Will they do it consistently enough? That's where America still struggles. That's the gap."

 

Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte, Pa.

 

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