By Mary Scimone
We’re in a restaurant for my daughter’s birthday (pre-pandemic of course). She loves coming here for her favorite, obscenely proportioned, macaroni & cheese. Since it’s her birthday, she also requests a side of fries because, as she puts it, ‘why not?’ As the waitress finishes up the order, my daughter sheepishly looks at the menu and makes a final request, “Can I also have a side of steamed broccoli?” As the waitress walks away, my daughter sits upright, proud of her choices, and whispers, “I wanted to add something nutritious.”
In a way, my daughter’s comment reflects a common reaction to the notion of nutrition. It’s a task like brushing teeth or washing hands, boring but necessary. For others, images of bland, usually green, and never indulgent foods come to mind. Flashes of colorful but useless charts, failed resolutions, or scolding trainers stir feelings of confusion and guilt.
Despite the failed government attempts to educate the public on healthy eating, such as the Food Pyramid and My Plate, one would think that nutrition would be integral to the customer shopping process among Americans today. But alas, it is not.
There are many reasons for this:
1. Stressful lifestyles often lead to poor or impulsive food choices, especially when buying from fast-food restaurants. In 2018, to combat obesity, the federal government required restaurants to display calories on their menu. Even before the law went into effect, however, research showed that overall, consumers largely ignored the information. Other studies showed that there were clearly socio-economic dividing lines between who would notice the information and how it would impact their food choice. Further, focusing solely on calories as the cause of obesity continues to mislead consumers, hindering their ability to make informed, nutritious choices.
2. Time-starved lives hamper nutritious food choices when shopping. With the average shopping trip (from store entry to exit) averaging 40 minutes and the average basket containing 20-40 items, the customer has at most 2 minutes in which to locate the item, consider alternatives, price & freshness, read the nutrition label and make the buying decision. With 75% of American’s shopping basket dedicated to ‘center store’ (e.g. pre-packaged food), there’s simply not enough time, nor options to make nutritious, well-informed choices.
3. Meal planning adds another level of complexity that combines the demands of family budgets, dietary preferences, allergies, and schedules with the occasional recipe. Where planning meets recipe alteration or substitution, special skills are often needed that the average working family simply doesn’t have in great abundance.
For all these reasons, nutrition is still the outlier or after-thought of the buying experience. But where there’s a problem, there’s also an opportunity. It goes without saying that nutrition should be front and center in every buying decision. After all, food is inextricably linked with nutrition, for good or for bad. The problem is, the combination of misguided education, misinformation, negative connotations, and the everyday realities of working Americans, have made this subject unnecessarily complex.
Retailers are uniquely positioned to step into the void. With all the technology available today, the retailer can act as a trusted advisor and solution specialist 24/7 by:
- Understanding that nutrition is personal – everyone is different and those differences need to be respected
- Utilizing loyalty card programs as a platform to ask for and respond to customer’s health needs & wants
- Aligning customer’s needs with their favorite products, and recommending substitutions where appropriate
- Providing meal solutions in the form of curated recipes or freshly prepared meals that meet their health goals
- Demonstrating the deliciousness of nutrition through cooking events, contests, or free samples
- Leveraging digital channels to provide easy to understand and consider nutritional insight to help customers lead better lives
- Encouraging communities among your customers that share stage of life, lifestyle, or food allergies to swap recipes, articles, and encouragement.
While we wait for our local retailer to step int the void, I’m busily working on convincing my daughter that my homemade Spaghetti Squash Mac & Cheese with a side of Cauliflower Tots are not only nutritious (and properly proportioned), but way, way better than any restaurant.