Consumers Rate Supermarkets Fair on Healthy Foods

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 116 views 

From the White House to school cafeterias, “healthy” food has become a big issue, as well as big business. For many years, consumers could only find natural and organic brands at specialty shops or premium markets such as Whole Foods.

In recent years, however, both the food industry and retailers have recognized the growing demand for healthful foods among moderate and low-income consumers.

Despite this realization, however, it appears that many supermarkets still have a long way to go when it comes to stocking these in-demand, organic and natural brands. David Orgel recently wrote an editorial for Supermarket News that considered the results of a study on natural food offerings in grocery stores.

“Some 52 percent of consumers called their supermarket only ‘fair’ in selection of natural and organic and better-for-you items, and fair was defined as ‘I usually (versus almost always) can find the brands and items that I want.’” Orgel wrote, “That compares with 38.6 percent saying ‘good’ and 8.9 percent ‘poor.’”

Consumers also felt that grocers were doing only a “fair” job of making these products affordable and encouraging patrons to eat healthier diets. As one might expect, price remains a primary concern when people shop for food. Even healthy food. This points to a need for suppliers and retailers to look at ways to cut costs when manufacturing, packaging and selling organic foods and other healthy items.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., of course, is no stranger to the notion of supporting healthy food choices. Walmart partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama to make available healthy, delicious food in its stores. In a 2013 press release, Walmart described its efforts:

“During the first two years of Walmart’s healthier food initiative, the company helped make it easier for customers to create healthier diets and, ultimately, live healthier lives by:

• Saving customers $2.3 billion on fresh fruits and vegetables.

• Developing and launching a front-of-package icon which will appear on more than 1,300 Walmart Great Value and Marketside items as well as fresh and packaged fruits and vegetables.

• Reducing salt and sugars in its private brand and national food brands.

• Opening 86 stores serving neighborhoods without access to fresh, affordable groceries.”

Since then, Walmart has expanded its efforts by introducing the affordable Wild Oats range of organic foods to its shelves. In addition, Walmart sponsors “cooking matters,” a series of cooking classes that take place in Walmart stores. The classes focus on teaching consumers how to shop for healthy foods while on a budget and how to prepare them into creative, delicious meals that can be enjoyed at home.

There is plenty of room for improvement, however, even for Walmart. As Orgel noted in his Supermarket News column, many of the comments made by survey participants indicated “frustration.”

These observations included pricing concerns and the fact that many shoppers find it difficult to locate natural and organic foods within a store. In addition, some also mentioned that they’d like to interact with store employees who are knowledgeable about the foods that they sell.

Walmart’s new emphasis on associate training and manager autonomy may segue nicely with these demands. Store managers could choose to place featured organics near the front of the shop. Associates could be offered the opportunity to learn about nutritional guidelines, food label information and ways that customers can use the healthy foods offered in Walmart stores.

Regardless of how Walmart continues to address the need for healthy food options, retailers and suppliers need to pay more attention to consumers who are struggling with a new way of eating. By meeting these needs, both businesses will tap into a huge market that shows no sign of slowing down.