KANSAS CITY – The Food Marketing Institute’s report on “Retailer contributions to health and wellness” paints an interesting picture of the direction many supermarkets may be heading in an effort to differentiate. While food is perceived as a key contributor to increased foot traffic and one of the reasons why the drug, dollar and convenience store channels are enhancing their offerings, so is health care and wellness. As a result, many supermarket operators are combining food and wellness in an effort to stand out.

While pharmacies are mainstays of many retail formats, some supermarkets are expanding on the concept of wellness in an effort to educate and develop customer loyalty. These programs may range from such common efforts as product sampling and the distribution of healthy recipes to nutrition counseling, wellness classes and even more enhanced education programs.

The F.M.I. report is based on the responses to a survey the association has conducted annually the past three years. A key top-line takeaway from the survey is 70% of the retailers that participated in the survey view health and wellness programs as a “significant growth opportunity for the entire industry in the years ahead.”

The F.M.I. survey noted a shift over the past year in that the strategies retailers use to help consumers identify healthy products is changing. There has been an increase in the identification of wellness-oriented products by such lifestyle attributes as vegan, kosher, etc. At the same time there has been a decrease in identifying products according to health conditions like diabetes or gluten intolerance. Instead, retailers are placing alternative products on the same shelf as traditional products.

Of the retailers surveyed, almost all employ pharmacists and 95% employ dietitians at the corporate, regional and store levels. Even more impressive, 70% have in-store health care clinics in some or all stores, a sizeable increase from 40% of respondents in 2013.

These shifts point to supermarkets making the transition to wellness centers. The strategy makes sense given how many alternative retail channels have added food and beverage products to their offerings. The question for the marketers of consumer packaged goods is how to engage the organizers of these programs?

There is much anecdotal evidence that consumer perception of health and wellness is changing, that many consumers are less concerned about specific conditions or weight management and interested in learning how to manage a healthy lifestyle. The changes taking place within supermarkets all but guarantees this redefinition of health and wellness will continue.