From the Publisher: Dialing in on diabetes

Diabetes has become a big concern. are grocery retailers doing enough to help shoppers look for sugar-free alternatives?

Seth MendelsonThe numbers are staggering. According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 26 million Americans—about 8.3% of the population—have diabetes. Another 80 million or so are in what is called a “prediabetes” condition and, thanks to growing obesity rates and poor diets, about two million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed annually.

So how come there are no—or perhaps just very few—diabetes-friendly sections at supermarkets?

The increasing diagnosis of celiac disease in consumers over the last decade has led to a dramatic increase in gluten-free products on the market and the creation of gluten-free sections in grocery stores throughout the country. Yet most retailers have been hesitant to add sections that offer sugar-free products in specific locations in their stores.

Unfortunately, I know this first-hand. Diabetes is in my family. My brother and niece both have it and, after interviewing both, they report that while there are many sugar-free products in stores, they are often hard to find. With the exception of the candy section, where companies such as Hershey and Mars have introduced their own versions of sugar-free products, they say that they often have to search near and far throughout stores to find the right products.

The problem, they say, is that unlike gluten-free items, retailers tend to mix their sugar-free items in with other products in a particular category. Proper signage identifying these products is rare. So consumers looking for these items often have to rely on reading labels to make sure that the product they need meets their dietary restrictions. Not only is this time-consuming, it is a pain in the neck, especially for older consumers who often cannot read the small type on some packaging.

Integrating these items into the appropriate section may not be a good idea any longer. Many consumers I have spoken with who have diabetes say they want their shopping experience to be as quick and easy as possible; just like all consumers. Creating a diabetes-friendly section (I am told that terminology is preferred over a sugar-free department), will allow these shoppers to find the products they need in a fast, orderly fashion.

Consumers with diabetes do report some very good news. Most say that there are many more items available that meet their dietary needs these days. In the candy category, for example, a number of leading suppliers have introduced items that are sugar-free and, more importantly, tasty.

The same is happening in the snacks and cereal categories. And now industry observers say it is also happening in such departments as soup, frozen and prepared foods.

To complete the circle, retailers need to create diabetes-friendly areas that will make it simpler for consumers to find what they need from this segment—which only promises to grow in importance with consumers.

This entry was posted in 2013 03 Article Archives, Columns and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.