Talking shop with… Jack Chipman

Consumers are looking for products that fit a specific diet, according to the director of sales for Amy’s Kitchen. Retailers need to carry them and educate their shoppers at the same time.

Grocery Headquarters: Special dietary needs continue to be a hot button for consumers and, hence, retailers. Tell us about this trend.
Jack Chipman:
As you say, more consumers every day are aware of the connection between what you eat and how you feel, and now look to diet when exploring health issues. Even the most mainstream retailers know that they need to carry gluten-free, lower-sodium, and non-dairy alternatives.

More than two million people in the U.S. have celiac disease, or about one in 133 people (according to the Archives of Internal Medicine). People with the disease have intolerance to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), which can damage the lining of the small intestine. The vast majority of these cases are undiagnosed, so we expect that the number of people turning to a gluten-free diet will continue to grow each year.  Some out of necessity and others are those who want to reduce the amount of gluten in their everyday diet.

What do retailers need to do to educate their customers about these trends?
Buyers now ask for these offerings, tag them in the stores and, in some cases, create dedicated sections. When a customer finds a special item that meets their dietary needs and also pleases their palate, they are fiercely loyal to that item and the store becomes a shopping destination for them. We get more letters at Amy’s thanking us for our great tasting special diet items than you can imagine.

What merchandising practices do retailers need to institute to generate the most sales and profits from these trends?
People with dietary restrictions are actively seeking alternative products. Stores need to know which of the products they currently carry speak to this and clearly call them out to their customers. Dedicated promotions for gluten-free items, etc. would also spotlight the category.

Also, as special diet items tend to cost more to produce, the retails tend to be correspondingly higher. A retailer that would consider taking a bit less margin to obtain an attractive everyday price would be investing in securing a loyal everyday customer.

What is Amy’s doing to satisfy consumer needs and retailer demands? What about new products?
Despite the fact that a substantial number of Amy’s products are naturally gluten-free, lower in sodium, etc., we are constantly working to develop new, specifically formulated items to accommodate the growing demands of the special diet segment. We also are sensitive to the fact that, for those saddled with dietary restrictions, losing access to the flavor of some of your favorite dishes is a difficult adjustment. We therefore work hard to make our special diet dishes adhere to the same standards of great taste as the rest of our line. I actually prefer the taste of our gluten-free mac and cheese over our regular product.

What can we expect from Amy’s at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim?
We have an amazing new gluten-free chocolate cake, two new gluten-free burritos, a new rice crust roasted vegetable pizza and a number of new frozen products that are light in sodium.

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