LIVE FROM NGA: How Indies Are Getting Healthier

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Less is more, the saying goes, but when it comes to wellness merchandising, more may be better.

That's according to a panel discussion, "Meeting the Needs of the Health and Wellness Consumer," Tuesday afternoon at the NGA Show in Las Vegas.

Grocers need to take a forward-looking approach to their health and wellness offerings, "and overemphasize categories to make sure they're seen," said Keith Wypyszynski (pictured below center), VP of the Global Market Development Center. Among the steps retailers ought to take: good lighting and wood shelving, which convey a healthy image; and keeping natural and organic items shelved along with conventional items, properly signed, rather than in a separate section. "Take a risk and expand these sections to make sure they're seen by the consumer," Wypysznski said.

Further, wellness marketing needs to be carried through all store categories, asserted Jonathon Thacker (right), VP pharmacy at Wakefern Food Corp. "It's not just about eating well - it's about staying well," he said, noting that, beyond food, consumers are interested in clean-label products for household cleaning, pet food and other general merchandise. As Wypyszynski put it, consumers are interested not just in "what's in me, but what's around me."

Moderator Tony Germano, VP strategic initiatives at Imperial Distributors Inc., noted that health and wellness consumers present significant dollars to be captured. Key categories include fresh produce, functional foods and beverages, supplements and hygiene products. Germano cited statistics showing natural and organic product sales growing nearly 12 percent between 2010 and 2012, up nearly $2 billion year over year, making it crucial for independent grocers to step up efforts to increase their share of the market.

How can they accomplish this? Improving selection of healthy fresh, perishable and prepared foods; increase wellness information available to shoppers; improve selection of natural and organic, supplements and personal hygiene products; and add in-store dietitians and other health services.

What areas within the wellness category are showing the most promise? According to Jim Nilsson, president of Geissler's Supermarkets: nutritional bars and gluten-free products, which for Geissler's has become a destination section.

Nutrition is "a trend that's here to stay," Nilsson (left) said. "You're pretty safe expanding anything in this category."

Digital, Digital and More Digital

Several sessions during the conference stressed the importance for retailers to step up their digital marketing efforts, and the wellness category is no exception. Geissler's has spent significant time and resources in developing a website and in-store kiosks that offer shoppers easy access to nutritional information, "to help them make better choices," Nilsson said. "You've got to be willing to put some hours into it."

Tuesday's general session speaker drove further home the message of digital. Erik Qualman (pictured at right), author of "Socialnomics," touted the power of social media in delivering a retailer's message. Among Qualman's recommendations: leveraging Twitter to engage with consumers, using Pinterist for recipe sharing, and retrofitting the Uber taxi locator app for deli sales (to alert shoppers when order are ready rather than make them wait in line).

Speed to Shelf

But regardless of how well retailers communicate with shoppers, digitally or otherwise, if products folks want aren't on the shelves, they'll head down the street to the competition. A Tuesday morning panel addressed the importance of speed to shelf for new products.

John Cardamone (below far left), regional VP at Crossmark, cited his own company's research indicating that new items four weeks late to market cost retailers $284,000 in lost sales per store. Joe Wolf (below far right), president of Alliance Retail Group, which works with Crossmark and Associated Wholesale Grocers, noted that retailers can see a double-digit sales boost just by getting the right sales mix on the shelf, by expediting release of new products, reducing slow-moving items and reducing inventory.

Kimberly-Clark's Lon Hanson (second from left) noted that it's "much different in the independent world than a chain (grocer)," making close collaboration crucial among all parties in the supply chain.

Randy Stepherson (second from right), president of Stepherson's SuperLo Foods, agreed that a coordinated effort between retailers, vendors and sales agencies is "really making a difference for independents."

Read more about The NGA Show at and on Twitter - @pgrocer / @jimdudlicek / @indygrocer

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