- Across the U.S., hospitals are turning to healthy foods to help treat and prevent illness, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Some are offering nutritional counseling, while others have started operating food pantries on-site or sending patients home with a healthy bag of groceries upon discharge. Many hospitals and health systems are embracing the of food-as-medicine movement, with the belief that it is a more effective and less expensive way to treat chronic diseases.
- ProMedica, a health system based in Toledo, Ohio, has opened a grocery store to help patients with healthy eating. The store, Market on the Green, is located in an area with a lack of access to healthy food and is open to the public as well as hospital patients. The 6,500 square foot market is stocked with healthy foods recommended by the hospital, as well as popular snacks and food items. Products are positioned to encourage shoppers to grab healthy items first.
- Farmers markets are another destination recommended by health providers. In Indianapolis, Eskenazi Health hosts a weekly farmers market and operates a small grocery store near its main hospital cafeteria, which sells healthy fare. Eskenazi also employs a local grower to cultivate produce on the roof of one the main hospital, and the produce is used in patient meals and at community health centers.
As the health community continues to embrace the importance of diet in preventing and treating disease, grocers have an opportunity to serve their communities in a new way.
While ProMedica and Eskenazi Health are operating their own markets and food pantries, other health systems have partnered with established grocery stores to help them fill this need. St. Joseph Hoag Health, for example, partners with Ralphs supermarket in southern California for its “Shop with Your Doc” program. The brand new Basics Market in Portland, Ore., is located on the ground floor of The Portland Clinic, and store owners are hoping doctors will refer their patients to the market to meet their health food needs. The world of grocery innovation and e-commerce may even have a role in this movement, as meal kits are being looked at as a possible food-as-medicine resource.
Grocers that operate in areas with prominent hospitals and health systems should certainly explore the opportunity to partner, or at least request referrals, to connect with more customers in need of fresh, healthy foods. With so many now offering healthy options and building out their perimeter departments, grocers are in prime position to capitalize on the trend. Though health regulations can be tricky, retailers can avoid any issues by sticking to guidelines they’re given from health providers and by simply offering and promoting a wide selection of fresh foods.
In addition, retailers should explore health and marketing channels that can position stores as health destinations. Store dietitians can play an important role here, as can pharmacists. Grocers can also capitalize on growing e-commerce demand by offering online resources like recipes, education centers and more.
And while these healthy food efforts can be a resource to all patients, it is important to note that often hospital food pantries or markets are present in communities that may be food insecure and have less access to affordable, fresh choices. The Food as Medicine campaign in San Francisco notes that low-income patients without access to healthy foods often suffer health consequences such as hypertension and diabetes, and The Wall Street Journal article cites an American Hospitals Association report with similar findings.
Ultimately, there will likely be an increased focus on the role of food in preventive health and chronic disease treatment in the coming years, and while this isn’t necessarily an area to seek profit, it is a way for grocers to continue to become more deeply connected with their own communities and the needs of their shoppers.