Any store selling food has the opportunity to sell a wide array of products. In our market place it is challenging to maintain a successful business with increased square footage, consolidation creating large national and international retailers and a consumer that demands more all the time. Those are some of the realities and then if you layer on top a responsibility to deliver health & wellness it is fair to ask if this is really the job of the retailer?
It is common knowledge that produce is better for you than pop & chips but when you watch consumers there are many questionable choices in their carts. Consumer behavior is very interesting. They say they want to eat healthy and live a long life however the food they buy does not always support these opinions. This is the dilemma for the retailer; do you devote valuable space in store and ads to healthy items they say want or do you feature the items they really buy? Pop and chips are great traffic drivers. Retailers cannot ignore these items. If they do the store across the street who does feature them will steal their customers and sell them a few healthy items too. Consumers have to take some ownership themselves for their own well-being. This will enable the retailer to offer more healthy choices without being penalized by losing sales.
There is a role for government to educate consumers. This starts in school and continues through to where financial support is directed. Government should be supporting producers and processors in the food industry who develop products that benefit the overall well being of citizens. Unfortunately this gets impacted by lobby groups in different industries and influenced by where the votes are. It is also a challenge for government to really draw a line in the sand as to what is not healthy.
Retailers are in business to satisfy their customers and deliver a profit for shareholders so they can stay in business. As the consumer evolves they will evolve. We have seen more space devoted to natural foods, organic produce and less sodium in control label. Every retailer has their own strategy with regards to health & wellness and be clear it is a business strategy, not really a sense of responsibility. Some retailers include this in their corporate social responsibility commitments but it really does have to drive traffic and sales within their target market. Some target markets are moved more than others by this message.
Retailers would prefer shoppers buying healthy items because the margins are usually higher and it is possible to build more of a long-term relationship with this customer. A healthy customer should also live longer and spend more grocery dollars over the years. I do believe retailers have some responsibility to lead the consumer to more healthy products but they can only move as fast as their customers will support them. In our value chain it is much more a business strategy, than a responsibility.