Nutrition Advice – A Huge Opportunity For Canadian Retailers

We’ve all heard the stats before. Canada has a very high level of overweight and obese persons – myself included. At 6’ 2” and 225 lbs my BMI (Body Mass Index) is 28.9.

For those of you who are not familiar (or choose not to be) overweight is classified as a BMI greater than 25 and obese kicks in at a BMI of 30 or above.

Check your BMI

Back in January I “peaked” and decided to make a change. I enrolled in a 10K clinic with the Running Room and completed my first race in March. I am now on the tail-end of a half-marathon clinic and will run 21.1 km on August 22nd.

What has struck me during this whole experience is the lack of really solid nutritional advice available at the place where we get the bulk of our food – the grocery store.

My goal here is not to blame the system or producers of high-calorie foods. Personal choices are where each individual needs to be accountable. I chose to eat the Old Dutch Chips and the PC Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookies. I think that everyone needs a little junk food – just not as much as I ate without a healthy dose of exercise.

Of course, the Canada Food Guide (circa 1942), Health Check (circa 1998) and Mandatory Nutritional Labeling (circa 2005) were steps in the right direction.  In recent years, some manufacturers have launched their own food rating systems (Kraft and Pepsico come to mind) with varying levels of consumer / industry acceptance and controversy.

Individual product information is helpful. However, there is no one source for getting nutritional advice for your total basket.

A recent feature on the US morning show “Good Morning America” (link) got me thinking that Supermarkets (and other food retailers) could do much more to help their shoppers make better food choices.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

1) On-Site Nutritionists

Many Nutritionists and Dieticians offer grocery store tours to help their clients make better decisions when they are shopping for groceries. Why don’t more grocery chains make this be a service that is offered on a regular basis and widely promoted? This is an expensive service for a shopper to acquire privately but would show great value and build loyalty if it was offered by the store they normally shopped.

2) Nutrition Based Promotions

Why not encourage shoppers for making healthy choices? Even in a category like potato chips one can chose lower salt or baked options. Make these the “featured” product by giving them prominent placement in flyer and in displays. This might even encourage suppliers to develop more healthy products, as those who choose not to participate will lose share of shelf and promotional exposure.

3) Loyalty Card Analysis

Many retailers are stockpiling reams of purchase pattern data through Loyalty Cards. What about “mining” this data and offering nutritional suggestions for shoppers through detailed “report cards” or even simple register coupons for healthier choices. Safeway is already doing this in the United States.

4) Meal Plan Services

Shoppers have routines that are fuelled by habit and lack of time for shopping. Growing up I had pork chops and mashed potatoes almost every Wednesday night. My Mom was busy and pork chops are tasty so it was an easy shopping decision for her.

If retailers could create healthy and tasty meal plans and shopping lists that shoppers could match to their lifestyle (active, young family, weight loss, diabetic, gluten free, etc.) that were downloadable to your computer or iPhone; you could make substantial in-roads by saving shoppers the time the would have to invest to break their habits.

5) Nutrition Ratings Systems

Ok, I admit this is a tough one for me to swallow. We all use ratings systems to book hotels, airlines and even pick companies we like on Facebook. But can it work for food choices?

It is a noble idea but if each retailer were to develop their own star/points system, with each product assigned a score or rating there would be mass chaos, confusion and cost.

However, an easy rating system that is consistent regardless of where we shop and prominently displayed on-shelf would be helpful to many shoppers.

This is a perfect area for the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, Food & Consumer Products of Canada and Health Canada to work together and build a world-class rating system with input from retailers, suppliers and regulatory authorities. Until all four stakeholders have “bought in” any ranking system will be doomed from the outset.

Retailers have a huge, an often untapped, power for societal change that could be leveraged here. Wal-mart has led the “environmental” charge in recent years with many various projects aimed at reducing the footprint of their operations while at the same time reducing costs and increasing retail margins.

Wal-mart did not only influence shoppers with their “green” approach but also the supplier community. Categories from Laundry Detergents to Toilet Paper to Lightbulbs were all “greened” by Wal-mart working with its supplier partners.

Retailers and Suppliers can do the same for Nutrition – especially now that a “best practice” is in place thanks to the greening that has taken place over the past three or four years.

January and the infamous New Year’s Resolution season will soon be upon us. What a perfect time to launch Nutrition based programs that actually make a difference in the lives of shoppers and their families.

And let’s not forget, when consumers live longer and healthier lives, they work more, earn more and live longer – and they buy more from food retailers.

Talk about healthy sales and margin growth for both the retailer and the supplier!


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