By Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, FMIiStock-1213920280_cropped

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer grocery shopping habits and as a result, the role of the grocery store has been modified to address customers’ new needs. Yes, the well-documented delivery and online ordering play a part in this change, and there is immense potential to better share information with shoppers through ecommerce, but the nature of the regular grocery trip has undergone some seismic shifts as well. Shoppers are consolidating their trips, and if all their needs can be met at one store, all the better. Grocery stores are offering a holistic experience for shoppers—almost a community center approach—by delivering the full spectrum of services from food and supplies to prescriptions from the pharmacist, tips from the registered dietitian, and meal inspiration from the culinary team.

When it comes to addressing shoppers’ health and well-being needs, there is a long-standing trend of shoppers’ considering their grocery stores to be a trusted ally. The pandemic amplified this trend, with 62% of shoppers saying their “primary” store is on their side when helping them stay healthy—a number that is up from 51% prior to the pandemic. Retailers have increasingly become “go to” health and well-being community destinations by utilizing health care professionals (pharmacists, registered dietitians, nurses, etc.), providing primary health care services, flu shots, food safety resources, home hygiene, basic nutrition, and product assortments, along with education and information to help their customers. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the food industry has rallied behind the power of family meals. Family meals are proven to enhance health through increased fruit and vegetable consumption and to strengthen emotional outlook by boosting family connectedness. Encouraging consumers to stay strong with family meals results in improved public health and well-being.  

In the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, the food industry will continue to enhance overall public health by supporting consumers as they seek nutritious foods to meet health and well-being goals. I recently had the opportunity to participate on a panel with the Partnership for Healthier America (PHA) to explore the shifts in consumer food trends due to COVID-19. Along with the other panelists, Hank Cardello of the Food Policy Center and Hudson Institute, Gordon Reid of Stop & Shop, and Nancy Roman of PHA, we examined the opportunities for food retailers to help improve public health. During the discussion, I was again reminded of the amplifying value of partnerships and how important collaborations with organizations like PHA are in heightening our effectiveness. These valued partners help shine a light on best practices among retailers and suppliers that are hard at work supporting shoppers’ health and well-being goals. Now is the time to learn from each other, customize models to meet individual business needs, and build strong community centers focused on health that meet consumers where they are with the services that they need. I’m proud of the work the food industry has already done in this area, and I look forward to seeing the innovation on health and well-being continue.