The term “diet” has and always will be ingrained in the fabric of the retail food industry. But the context in which it’s used is changing, putting supermarkets in a prime position to capitalize on changing consumer eating patterns. 

Traditional vs. present day 

In the traditional sense, the term diet was generally used to describe a consumer’s attempt to alter their eating habits for the purpose of losing weight or in response to a health concern. Many of these individuals weren’t necessarily adopting a new diet by choice; it was more of a necessity. Certainly, a percentage of today’s shoppers still must adhere to special dietary restrictions, whether it’s for weight loss, reactions to specific food allergens or celiac disease, or related issues. 

However, the definition of diet has expanded into the realm of health and wellness consumers, which represent a growing percentage of consumers who shop supermarkets, their fresh perimeter departments. 

Today, a growing number of consumers view their diets as an integral part of their daily lives. Food is no longer just part of the “three-meals-a-day” mindset. It’s a well-thought-out and researched endeavor for many individuals, who see food as not just a form of nourishment, but as a source of energy and a cleanser for the body and the mind. These consumers are seeking “functional foods” that help them achieve and maintain their lifestyles. Health and wellness is a driving force in not only the production and development of products, but also the role supermarkets are playing in delivering them to consumers.  

The importance of health and wellness 

Just as the definition of diet has evolved over the years, so too have the characteristics of “wellness” ingredients. As revealed in IDDBA’s original research report, Total Store Connectivity: Revealing New Ways to Win with Bakery Bread, consumer lifestyles have replaced the health traits of the 20th century.

While many of these ingredients are normally associated with packaged goods, these and other traits are commonly found (or could be available) in supermarket fresh departments. And many of these food characteristics are precisely what consumers are looking for, due in large part to overall eating and purchasing trends the food industry is experiencing, such as: 
Simple and natural ingredients. Ingredients such as sugar and salt are more acceptable to today’s consumers, many of whom seek out natural ingredients in moderation in the foods they purchase. In essence, these are “real” ingredients free from additives and preservatives. Fresh departments, especially in-store bakeries, can attract consumers through messaging that focuses on product simplicity. 

Fresh. Unprocessed, fresh food typifies the health and wellness lifestyle, making it an almost necessary part of many consumers’ daily diet. And while many may associate the term fresh with produce, meat, and seafood, fresh foods are certainly not limited to these departments. It’s not just the food or ingredient itself that falls into this category, but also the way it is prepared or cooked. This concept lends itself well to in-store bakeries, delis, and foodservice departments, which prepare a sizable portion of their department products daily.  

Protein-rich. Consumer demand for food rich in protein continues to grow, as evidenced by the increasing number of products that emphasis it on their labeling. In-store delis, prepared foods, and cheese departments are natural spots for these products. 

Local. Products and ingredients sourced close to where they’re sold and utilized convey a true sense of freshness, which in turn makes them especially appealing to health and wellness shoppers. The farm-to-table movement is a concept that appeals to many consumers, especially those who see it as important to their personal diets.  

Plant-based diets. Whether due to health concerns, personal beliefs on the treatment of animals raised for consumption, or other reasons, consumers are increasingly looking to plant-based foods as alternatives to traditional sources of nutrition, such as animal protein. Look for this trend to continue, spurring the development  of new products in fresh departments. 

Health claims on product labeling. While many of today’s health and wellness shoppers are knowledgeable about the products they consume prior to visiting a retailer, most still look for health attributes on product packaging. Highlighting specific health traits and ingredients not only helps inform shoppers, but also helps retailers market these products to them. 

Convenience. To some consumers, the way food is sold is as important as the food itself. Snacking is now a common daypart, especially among the health and wellness consumer, who may snack numerous times during the course of the day. Portion control and size is also a consideration when making a purchase. Grab-and-go and single-serve product varieties provide a convenient and quick way for consumer to “fuel up”. 

Dietary necessities

Some consumers make purchases due to dietary necessities. For these consumers, purchasing certain food is not just a lifestyle choice, but one that could potentially cause discomfort, irritation, or even serious health implications. 

Proper labeling of product ingredients is essential in helping these consumers choose correctly. Education is equally important, especially for associates in fresh departments. Shoppers may turn to associates behind the counter for assistance, thereby making product and ingredient knowledge important.  Training and education, such as tools and resources offered by IDDBA at, can provide employees with the knowledge and confidence to better assist shoppers and family or friends who might be shopping for them. 

Today’s shoppers are turning to supermarkets as not just a place to buy food, but a locale to support their lifestyles, whether it’s voluntary or one driven by diet. Stores can grow their shopper base and build loyalty by not just viewing “diets” as food a consumer can or can’t eat, but as a lifestyle that can be supported with a variety of food options.