By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Digestive “gut” health has become a topic of increasing interest to many consumers as researchers discover how diet can enhance the microbiome and our overall wellbeing. In this interview with Beth Stark, RDN, Manager of Lifestyle Initiatives at Weis Markets, she explains how her team of dietitians turned the subject of gut health into a shopper-friendly educational program that drives store wide sales.
Did consumer questions regarding probiotics inspire you to create the Nourish Your Gut educational program?
Yes, more shoppers were asking about probiotic foods and we featured this topic in our January-February 2017 wellness magazine. This created more consumer interest and led to our store-wide program development. As shoppers began seeking foods that offered digestive health benefits we wanted to make sure our stores provided educational guidance.
What foods do you focus on and how do you highlight these products in your store?
We draw attention to both probiotics and prebiotic foods with educational signage that communicates what the food is, the nutritional benefits and how to use it. We include natural food sources such as onions, yogurt, bananas, oats, beans/lentils, sauerkraut and whole wheat bread. These foods are commonly purchased and by highlighting the digestive benefits we encourage continued consumption. We also focus on specialty items that people may not be as familiar with such as kimchi, kombucha, tempeh and kefir. We communicate what these items are and provide sampling and education to encourage consumption and purchase. No matter how beneficial a food is, if our customers don’t know how to use it, it likely won’t end up in their cart. We feel it’s important to provide information on the flavor profile and simple usage tips. For example, we suggest layering kimchi onto a sandwich, serving over rice or noodles. For tempeh, we suggest replacing chicken in a stir fry with tempeh or marinating and grilling.
Are there other ways that you are promoting the Nourish Your Gut educational messages?
When the program started in July, we conducted a Facebook live segment that had over 20,000 participants. We also did a series of social media posts showing our store signs and created the #NourishYourGut album that we posted to Facebook. In addition, our instore RDN team provides sampling and store tours while ensuring store associates are knowledgeable about the program and can answer basic consumer questions. We have also provided communication in our ad, on our website and through media coverage.
How have you partnered with your pharmacies to promote the Nourish Your Gut program?
Pharmacy associates recommend key foods that can promote gut health in the form of a ‘prescription’ sheet that includes a coupon for one of the recommended foods. This personal touch from our pharmacy staff has been very well received and drives sales to food departments.
What are your overall goals of the program and what results have you seen in terms of consumer comments and sales?
What we hope to accomplish with this program is to guide our customers toward the ‘basic’ and inherent sources of probiotic foods, as well as prebiotic foods and dietary fiber, vs those that are simply new product innovations. We have also been able to support sales across many departments including our natural and organic sections of the store while successfully promoting Weis Markets as a source for healthy products and credible educational resources. Customers are definitely engaged in the program and state that we have taken the “fear” factor away from some unfamiliar products such as kombucha. We are seeing positive results both from consumer comments and the addition of products to carts.