Nonfoods Talk: Playing catch-up

Wellness has been on consumers’ minds for nearly a generation. A new conference next year is geared to helping retailers gain more insight into how these shoppers think and act. Is it a decade too late?

I am scratching my head about the deal between the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Global Market Development Center (GMDC) to partner on a Health and Wellness Conference starting May 31, 2013 in San Antonio.

I am not wondering why these two organizations are joining up to launch this conference. What has me a bit curious is what took them so long to join forces and offer the supermarket industry a comprehensive conference on the booming health and wellness categories. Frankly, they should have launched this conference almost 20 years ago, when wellness really started becoming part of the retail industry’s lexicon.

As we all waited for the right information to get supermarket chains on the correct path as the wellness fad took off, drugstore chains were way ahead of the curve, incorporating wellness into their overall merchandise mix and making consumers aware that they were an outlet for their wellness questions and needs.

Big bucks for drugstore chains means less money for grocery stores. Chalk another one up for the other guys.

But better late than never. To be fair, GMDC has incorporated wellness into its ongoing annual HBC conference for more than a decade and the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based organization has tried its hardest to offer retailers and suppliers the proper information to help them get going in the wellness business and its relationship to nonfoods through its educational foundation.

GMDC needed more muscle behind its push on wellness and that, hopefully, will come from FMI and its vast resources (read: money). Unfortunately, FMI has historically been too slow to react on many fronts to new challenges and, from this angle, specifically has done little to help properly educate its retail members to the need to be major players in the wellness segment. Gee, wellness and food? Guess they never really thought about the correlations between the two. Oh well.

In its defense, FMI has been under new leadership over the last few years and these guys seem more willing to get involved in growing the supermarket industry, while the old regime seemed to concentrate on making more money for FMI’s coffers. So the time may be right for these two groups to team up.

Now the pressure is on FMI and GMDC to join together and truly offer the trade a health and wellness conference that will educate supermarket retailers, distributors and suppliers.

But if we walk out of the five-day event and simply learned how wellness is growing in importance at retail from a bevy of over-compensated talking heads, the conference will be a failure.

What we need are experts who will tell grocery merchandisers and marketers what they need to do to get a larger slice of the wellness market. First, that means using their crystal balls to tell us what are the hot segments of this category, now and over the next 10 years.
It would also help to teach retailers how to educate their own shoppers and what are the best ways to make a profit from the wellness segment. A talk or two on cross-merchandising wellness with HBC and the various key food categories would not be a bad idea either.

So we have nearly 13 months to wait and see if these two groups will keep their word and develop a comprehensive program that will educate the entire supermarket industry—from cosmetics and the pharmacy to the produce and the cereal departments—about the benefits of the wellness phenomenon.

I am rooting for them to succeed for the basic fact that the grocery industry needs a road map on how to capture more sales from the growing legion of shoppers who think in terms of wellness whenever they are shopping for their family needs.

In fact, gaining a larger foothold in wellness could go a long way in determining the wellness of the grocery industry over the next generation. 

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