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The ‘Convenient Health’ Opportunity

What categories, products can help c-stores capitalize on growing wellness trend?

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Sherry Frey, senior vice president of Nielsen’s perishables group, kicked off her NACS State of the Industry (SOI) session by polling the audience on who had sported a Fitbit-like pedometer, changed their diet for health reasons or downloaded a nutrition tracking app to their smartphones in the past year. Virtually every hand was up.

Sherry Frey Nielsen (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Gas Stations)

“This health-and-wellness trend has clearly caught the fancy of the American public, moving from fanatics to mainstream,” Frey surmised.

Indeed, after the economy, health is the No. 1 concern for global consumers. And though Frey admitted the top convenience store sellers of tobacco and beer “don’t exactly scream healthy,” she pointed out that even those segments are trending towards wellness: just look at the growth in potentially reduced-harm products like e-vapor and smokeless tobacco.

This shift has happened naturally. But Frey thinks there’s an opportunity for the convenience-store channel to further capitalize on the health-and-wellness movement—thus attracting new, less-traditional shoppers to the channel, including:

  • Youth. Because younger shoppers make fewer shopping trips across the board than previous generations, retailers need to focus on how to best capture that trip and boost basket size.

“Millennials are driving a lot of the health and wellness trends we’re seeing and, in many cases, are more willing to pay for those healthy products,” Frey said, adding that health is an even bigger focus for the under-20 Generation Z. “They are fully willing to spend their parents’ money on health and wellness.”

  • Women. Even today, females tend to do the vast majority of household shopping—except in convenience, which still skews highly male. Women (especially mothers) also tend to place a higher emphasis on health and wellness.
  • High Earners. No surprises here: high-income households spend more on health and wellness and tend to spend less time shopping convenience stores than low-income households.

“Health and wellness is a very, very logical way for you to attract these consumers to your stores,” Frey said.

Which isn’t to say that low-income shoppers aren’t interested in health and wellness too: in fact, Frey believes these core convenience store shoppers would potentially benefit the most from the availability of convenient, price-sensitive healthy offerings.

“Consumers are looking for convenience: convenient food and now, convenient health,” she said. “C-stores are in a really great position in terms of the opportunity to pull consumers in for a larger food shopping trip.”

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Implementing a convenient fresh food program is no easy task—as Frey said, “You don’t get points for brown bananas”—but one with high risk, high reward.

“Consumers are willing to buy fresh anywhere as long as it delivers on their needs,” she said.

For retailers more comfortable with dipping their toes in the health and wellness waters, Frey pointed out there are numerous companies leveraging the “halo effect of fresh” through consumer packaged goods (CPGs).

Frey outlined some specific category opportunities:

  • Packaged Beverages. The loudest news might be about how packaged beverage sales are suffering due to the health-and-wellness phenomenon. Frey said soda sales are flat largely due to the decrease in diet soda, a “direct reaction” to consumers caring about natural ingredients. The health-and-wellness-friendly segment of ready-to-drink refrigerated teas is taking off in grocery—Frey sees this as an easy c-store opportunity.
  • Snacks. “There’s a change going on with how we snack,” she said. “It’s really becoming a meal replacement, with consumers looking for better-for-you snacks.”

Nowhere is that more apparent than the emphasis on protein: 18% of consumers say they want more meat and protein-oriented snacks and the c-store channel has seen a 12.4% growth in products with a “protein” claim (vs. just 3% in the grocery channel).

“Protein is getting its due from consumers in terms of understanding and appreciating its value,” said Frey.

  • Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications/Supplements. “You are a convenient space,” said Frey. “Many of those over-the-counter needs are immediate.”

As such, Nielsen data shows all health care-related OTC products have seen growth at convenience stores except weight loss and diet pills.

Merchandising healthy products properly might be more important than what kinds of products retailers carry. Frey pointed to Target’s “made-to-matter” label added to health-and-wellness-related items such as Chobani Greek yogurt or the line of Amy’s Organic goods. Besides the label, Target calls out these healthy choices by merchandising them together.

“They’re kind of curating health and wellness for their consumers,” she said.

The road to health and wellness is no simple task: but it’s one Frey said offers high rewards on both a moral and financial level.

“The idea that we can be a part of fostering a healthier America is really exciting,” she said. “Healthier shoppers really do cater to a healthier bottom line.”

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