KANSAS CITY - Living through a pandemic has made many people question just what the term “health” means to them. 

Exercise, sleep, nutrition, medicine and good old common sense are just as important as they ever were. But today’s consumers are combining those and all the other factors that go into a healthy lifestyle in new and sometimes surprising ways. And increasingly, they’re turning to their grocery stores for answers in their journeys to health.  

“Health and wellness are in the process of being redefined as more than just nutrition and fitness,” said Rebecca Calvin, senior vice president and chief merchandising officer for Modesto, Calif.-based The Save Mart Companies. “People continue to set goals around nutrition and fitness, but they are also focused on increasing their mental and emotional health.”

As part of this more holistic approach to health and wellness, shoppers are looking for affordable healthy meals at home, she added. With that in mind, Save Mart stores provide accessible and budget-friendly solutions that meet shoppers’ needs for healthier eating options without sacrificing value.

Because “healthy” is often defined individually, staying abreast of broader macro trends ensures that Save Mart can evolve its assortment to meet its shoppers’ needs, Calvin said. For example, the retailer offers leaner or thinner cuts in the meat department across different proteins.

One trend with real staying power is healthy meal solutions, Calvin said. Save Mart customers continue to seek out solutions that are cleaner and include less sugar and meat.

Plant-based nutrition, keto and intermittent fasting are other trends the retailer is keeping a close eye on. In Save Mart’s new Lucky California innovation lab, which opened in May in Pleasanton, Calif., an entire plant-based section is located next to the produce department, unifying healthy options in one convenient location.

The impact of COVID on Americans’ attitudes toward healthier eating has been profound. More than 40% of Americans say they’re eating at least somewhat healthier now than they were before the pandemic. That has translated directly to how consumers buy groceries. 

“We have seen a real influx of customers looking to diversify their family’s meal choices,” Calvin said. “Especially now, with more than a year of working and learning from home, people are feeling cooking fatigue. Our culinary and foodservice teams constantly refine and update our ready-to-eat prepared meal solutions and our ready-to-make offerings with inspired healthy choices.”

While some grocers use nutritionists or registered dietitians in-store and dramatically limit the assortment on behalf of the customer, people continue to rely on health care providers and their networks for dietary recommendations and classes or tutorials on healthier eating, Calvin said.

When shopping instore, customers are typically mission-driven and likely not receptive to a tremendous amount of new information or being made to feel bad about their food choices.

“At Save Mart, we believe providing information at shelf is critical, as that is where the final purchase decision is made,” Calvin said. “We tag products that fit specific nutrition attributes — organic, whole grain, heart-healthy, plant-based, etc. — allowing shoppers with specific dietary requirements to easily find what they’re seeking and quickly make the choice that is right for them.”

Additionally, as organic has become a base shopper expectation of any grocery store, she added, Save Mart continues to expand its assortment. That currently includes more than 1,000 USDA-certified options not only in its produce departments but throughout the store.

Save Mart has found that simple cues in produce and other departments give shoppers information to help make shopping fresh easier. And the retailer continues to expand healthy grab-and-go options like cold-pressed juices and fresh-cut fruit and veggies.

From manufactured to natural (i.e. food)

One trend in consumers’ attitudes toward health has been a shift from manufactured medicine to natural remedies, said Matt McMillin, business development specialist for Collinsville, Ill.-based J.R. Kelly Co., the country’s largest supplier of horseradish root.

“While manufactured medicines certainly help in treating symptoms and recovery, they aren’t the only option for folks looking to get healthy,” McMillin said. “In addition to the health remedies in which they can be included, integrating certain foods and maintaining a well-balanced diet can help prevent some potential future issues from occurring down the road.”

Retailers that stock foods consumers view as having medicinal value often find themselves with a competitive advantage over their competitors. All other things being equal, a food’s health profile, McMillin said, can determine whether or not it winds up in a grocery shopper’s cart.

“When a consumer has two items in their hand and they’re split between what they want to eat or cook, and one of the items is perceived as healthier, it can definitely sway the decision-making process,” he said. “There’s a lot more information out there than there used to be. The scope of health considerations in our diets will continue to evolve as we learn more about human health and the different benefits of lesser-known commodities.”

Horseradish is one of those foods that’s gaining traction in consumers’ minds as a way to stay healthy.

“Horseradish isn’t a staple in every grocery store or refrigerator in America, but it should make its way toward that status as more information is learned about it and its health benefits,” McMillin said.

Those benefits include:

    Helps to fight cancer - Recent studies show that horseradish has 10x more cancer-fighting glucosinolates than broccoli.

    High in Fiber, Vitamin C, Folate, Calcium, and other nutrients.

    Rich in Antioxidants – Helping to prevent health issues caused by free radicals.

    Fights Respiratory Illness - Horseradish is often used to treat multiple respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis, sinusitis, and the common cold.

For centuries horseradish has been utilized as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever.

When it comes to getting the word out about its health benefits, the horseradish industry doesn’t have a large footprint when it comes to marketing or advertising health benefits, McMillin said.

J.R. Kelly aims to flatten that learning curve by sharing the latest news and health information via social, digital, and print platforms. The company can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jrkellyhorseradish and at its website, www.jrkelly.com.

“We’ve been in horseradish for years, and we’re here to stay, so we’ll be making more efforts to have horseradish information more widespread than it currently is.”