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How food retailers are building brand differentiation through their health and wellness programs


Health and wellness is alive and well at food retailers who are taking the lead in establishing their health and wellness programs. Many top retailers are deploying in-store dietitians to help shoppers make informed choices. Apart from rolling out “good for you products,” be it their own or a national brand offerings, retailers are also offering content like healthy recipes and product samples as well as providing menu labels with health information.

How food retailers are building brand differentiation through their health and wellness programs
Food retailers see health and wellness programs not only as a business growth opportunity, but also as a way to meet consumer expectations

According to an industry study, retailers have a big opportunity to enhance their health-and-wellness programming by extending their health and wellness initiatives to shoppers.  Overwhelmingly, food retailers see health and wellness programs not only as a business growth opportunity, but also as a way to meet consumer expectations. Grocers understand their value as both a destination and partner in a shopper’s health and wellness journey and according to experts retailers offer an enormous spectrum of health-and-wellness programming, especially around activities that provide more shopper experiences and product assortment.

“Our primary focus is on value-added products like dry fruits, nuts, spices and all other premium food products associated with health and wellness,” says Sunil Sanklecha, Managing Partner, Nuts ‘n’ Spices. Chennai-based Nuts ‘n’ Spices is a specialty store that sells a large variety of products such as dry fruits, spices, herbs, health products, sugar free products, imported chocolates and biscuits, imported dairy products, imported ice creams, frozen foods and many more gourmet products.

Dehydrated fruits like kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapple have also been recently added into its product mix. Besides nuts, dry fruits and seeds, Nuts ‘n’ Spices also offers a range of herbs and seasonings such as oregano, basil, thyme, parsley, mixed herbs, etc. The varieties of spice powders and condiments include Kashmir chilly powder, coriander seeds powder, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, among others. The store also stocks syrups and juices from International and Indian brands. From Pringles to Doritos to Mumbai’s sukhi bhel, low calorie namkeens, oil-free papads, mixtures and other diet snacks for the fitness freaks, the store serves as a one stop destination for a whole lot of healthy snacking ideas.

“The aspiration levels of customers are going through an upward evolution. More and more customers are becoming aware of what they consume and impact of the products they buy on their health and the world. And this is changing the way they look at their lives and what they consume,” opines Rajeev Krishnan, Managing Director and CEO, SPAR Hypermarkets. He adds: “For us health foods are a very promising segment. As a consequence of the sedentary lifestyle most of us lead these days, pursuing an ‘active life’ has become a quest. We identify ourselves as contributing significantly in this space by offering a range of healthy food products and solutions to our shoppers.”

SPAR Hypermarkets is taking the health and wellness space very passionately and is looking at enriching the lives of customers by bringing in interactive and innovative ways to educate them on living in a healthier manner. It has been encouraging organic and locally grown products in all its stores across the country. For instance, as part of its program called SPAR Natural Range, the retailer has entered into partnerships with leading healthcare brands and professionals, building a complete program for customers with a health and wellness zone.

This commitment toward health and nutrition has also resulted in the allocation of a dedicated section in the stores called `SPAR Natural’. Within this dedicated zone, SPAR India offers the widest variety of healthy food products or `superfoods’ like millets, herbs, seeds, and nuts. SPAR Natural also promotes organic brands of Indian origin. Organic and natural brands like 24 Mantra, Pure & Sure, Phalada Organics, Organic Tattva, Pronature, Turn Organic, and others are promoted under the SPAR Natural initiative.

“Today, grocery stores have become both a destination and partner in a shopper’s health and wellness journey. The trend of health and well-being in food retail continues to escalate as an important value and service provided to customers. In the food retail environment, health and wellness is being delivered in a variety of forms from providing access to healthand wellness information, to curating healthy food choices to providing in-store health care services. “The superfoods category is seeing the maximum demand and sales traction at our Foodhall stores. Also, special dietary requirement foods, which include vegan and gluten-free products, are the big trends we are seeing,” says Avni Biyani, the driving force behind Future Retail’s premium lifestyle food superstore Foodhall and its Concept Head.

Health and wellness is an increasingly essential yet complex driver in consumers’ buying decisions, and retailers must embrace their role as both an advocate for, and supporter of, shoppers’ desire to make better choices, and offer those solutions. But it’s not just fruits and vegetables that can have a positive impact on our health. There are lots of healthful components like antioxidants, fiber, whole grains, and soy, found in a variety of foods and beverages that can make a difference in our health as we age.

Among the top components with health benefits are calcium and vitamin D for bone health, protein and B vitamins for overall well being, omega-3 fatty acids for heart health, and probiotics and fiber for digestive health. Experts opine that despite their growing knowledge of what they should be eating, Indians still struggle to incorporate these key food components into their diets. The top barriers to more frequent consumption are expense, taste and availability, say the experts. However, consuming foods for health benefits doesn’t have to be expensive. Just taking simple steps, such as choosing a whole grain cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt for breakfast each day, can go a long way to improve health over time.

The road ahead for health foods

Food in India is gradually getting fortified with milk being the recent addition to the pool of fortified products. Companies like Nestle are fortifying milk with vitamin D and A to combat common deficiencies. The list of products is expected to expand in the coming years. Going ahead, global resource constraints will lead the industry to explore unconventional avenues to meet the ever growing demand for high nutrition food. Given the limited number of resources for an ever growing population, the healthy consumption segment, specifically foods, will see interesting product innovations through advanced technology in the future. Whereas 3D printing joining the group of kitchen appliances may be a little far in the future, synthetic meat and un-conventional protein will soon be commercially available.

Synthetic or cultured meat means growing muscle tissue from animal stem cells in a lab rather than harvesting from livestock. This will not only reduce the dependency on resources like land, water and energy but also allow the alteration of essential amino acids and fat in addition to adding vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds. Similarly consumption of various bugs offers higher value of iron, calcium, B12 and Omega apart from higher levels of protein. All this comes with greater sustainability as they breed faster and require less water, feed and land while emitting less greenhouse gases.

As far as manufacturers are concerned, new entrants will stand a fair chance to leverage on consumer awareness, develop acceptability and garner trust. However, this opportunity needs to be catered with the right product and right packaging, which communicates the benefits profoundly to consumers. The recent growth of companies like Organic India, 24 Mantra, etc. reflects consumers’ willingness to move to healthier options at a premium.

On the other hand, organized retailers will continue allocating incremental shelf space to healthier options. Within the standard food categories whose contribution stands at about 10-20% of sales across various retailers, their share will gradually keep increasing.

Second, there will be high growth in certain pure play health and wellness foods categories. While the overall market is growing at 10-11% CAGR, there are many product categories that will keep growing at a much faster clip and will successfully replace the traditional food options due to negative health impacts associated with them. These include green tea (50% plus CAGR), oat based products (15% plus CAGR), etc.

The next few years will see the rise of a larger segment of foods entering the health domain through fortification and improved product personalization. With change in consumption patterns, health conscious individuals (HCIs) are looking for convenience and personalisation. The desire to eat fresh and healthy would be met by healthy meal kits, which are already a huge success in the west. These kits include proportioned healthy and/ or organic ingredients with complete instructions making it easy for one to cook.