As grocers look to project a healthier image to customers and also secure their long-term loyalty amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Heinen’s has developed a membership platform that addresses both fronts.
On Monday, the regional grocer introduced Club Fx, a program that offers shoppers a range of nutrition guidance tools, from weekly emails and shelf labeling to a coaching program that will include a spa-like in-store clinic, one-on-one sessions and proprietary blood tests.
Membership in the program, which is available to members of Heinen’s Tasteful Rewards loyalty program, is free and includes rotating product discounts on some of the 100 better-for-you products labeled with the Club Fx logo the chain offers, as well as weekly emails offering nutrition tips, videos and other information centered on topics like digestive health, immunity and heart health. New members will receive a “starter kit” checklist with 20 essential items for making healthy meals and snacks.
The program also features several options for personalized coaching that follow a wellness philosophy established by Heinen’s. Members can do free consultations, or "cart checks," with in-store wellness coaches that offer suggestions on buying healthier products based on health goals and preferences. They can also pay for nutrition counseling with a Heinen’s dietitian — all virtual to start, and scheduled through a Club Fx app — that includes a store tour, one-on-one intensive session and regular check-ins, with subsequent food and supplement “prescriptions” written for each customer. A pantry check service lets customers submit photos showing the insides of their refrigerators and pantries to dietitians, who then recommend changes.
Club Fx revolves around basic guidelines Heinen’s refers to as the “7 pillars of nutrition" and the foods that support each. They include consuming omega-3 fats daily, eating plenty of greens, prioritizing plant proteins and choosing whole grain foods. Nutrition guidance, as well as company communications, will center on these pillars, with certain ones prioritized for shoppers based on their profiles and goals.
Heinen’s, which operates 23 stores across Ohio and Illinois, will roll out Fx branded prepared meals beginning this spring that will be sold in a special store display. It's planning a line of private label frozen meals, as well.
In addition, the grocer is building a wellness clinic in its Mayfield Village, Ohio, store where, amid gentle music and aromatherapy, shoppers can receive personalized coaching sessions. If the clinic proves to be popular, Heinen's may add additional ones to its other stores.
Heinen’s is also finalizing a more scientifically rigorous service for Club Fx that blurs the lines between a grocery store and doctor’s office. A blood panel created in partnership with the Cleveland HeartLab and the grocer’s chief medical officer, Dr. Todd Pesek, will measure key indicators for heart health, immunity and gut health. A system created by Pesek will provide medical guidance, as well as advise which foods and supplements individuals should take.
"We believe that health is so important to our customers," said Chris Foltz, Heinen's chief innovation officer. "We see all kinds of surveys, and some that say when customers are shopping it's the No. 1 thing on their mind."
Helping shoppers 'separate the wheat from the chaff'
Grocers have long offered nutrition labeling and promotions, as well as dietitian counseling and in-store clinics, but bringing all of these elements together under a branded program is unique. Leading up to the rollout of Club Fx, Heinen's teased the program on social media to customers. It's also putting up store signage and sending out videos featuring owner Tom Heinen and Pesek.
Something exciting is coming to Heinen's on February 1st!— Heinen's (@Heinens) January 26, 2021
Keep your eyes peeled, because nutrition is about to get personal ???? pic.twitter.com/zK9n3gk3nJ
Food retailers have also preferred to promote a healthy diet rather than embrace it, since they sell many of the sugar-, salt- and fat-laden foods these diets discourage. The medical community, however, is increasingly endorsing a preventive approach to health that incorporates good eating. Many doctors are now prescribing food alongside medicine to prevent and treat conditions like diabetes, while some insurance companies are offering discounts to customers who can stick with healthy eating.
Grocers have an opportunity to take advantage of this movement by further integrating health and nutrition guidance into their store operations, said Gary Hawkins, CEO with the Center for Advancing Retail Technology.
"There's a lot going on around the convergence of the food industry and the healthcare industry," Hawkins said. "Imagine creating digital connections between your shoppers with health conditions and health care providers and health insurance companies. There's no end to where this stuff goes, but all of those things represent some kind of opportunity to create value for the retailer."
Retailers seem to be catching on. According to a Food Industry Association retailer survey published in December 2019, 26% said their company's health efforts were primarily focused on wellness-oriented services rather than "reacting to illness states" — more than double the percentage compared to 2017.
Foltz said that for years shoppers have come to Heinen’s wellness centers seeking help managing prediabetes, gluten intolerance and other conditions. Many have had trouble interpreting dietary changes doctors have advised, and Foltz said consultants at the company’s wellness centers, which have operated for around 10 years, have wanted to increase their advisory role with consumers.
“We thought we could do something to a broader base of customers on a regular basis, helping them separate the wheat from the chaff, demonstrating to them that healthy eating can be delicious, No. 1, and also simple, and that you don't have to turn your diet upside down,” said Foltz.
Wellness center consultants will offer light nutrition advising at the store level focused on simple tips and substitutions, Foltz said, while the company's two dietitians will offer more in-depth counseling. And the two parties will work together, said Jamie Cole, who oversees Club Fx, with dietitians instructing customers to check in with their local store’s wellness consultant to track progress and answer any questions.
Although all dietitian consultations will take place virtually at first, Foltz said post-COVID the company would like to offer both in-store and online appointments.
But will shoppers actually utilize the wide array of nutrition guidance tools Club Fx offers?
Foltz said it will take some time for them to learn about all the services, and that they may be skeptical about receiving nutrition counseling outside of a doctor's or dietitian's office. He also acknowledged that members may not buy into the idea of getting a blood workup and in-depth health guidance from a supermarket — even one that has its own chief medical officer.
Consumers have gotten used to having health services in stores. Retail clinics that offer routine exams, vaccinations and other basic services have steadily grown since the early 2000s — but many consumers don't use them. In a 2017 survey of more than 2,000 consumers by retail consulting firm Oliver Wyman, 57% said they did not feel comfortable receiving medical care outside a doctors office or hospital, while more than a third said they didn't trust retail stores to provide quality care.
“We don’t really want to start practicing medicine," Foltz said. "We just want that available, and more convenient at a price that makes sense.”
He declined to outline pricing for the blood testing system and other paid services, but said these would all be offered at cost, with a focus on deepening engagement with its customers. He estimated the blood tests, which will be administered through Pesek's medical office and may utilize the in-store wellness clinic, will cost half what they would in a clinical setting.
Eventually, Foltz said he’d like to market Club Fx to outside businesses looking to boost their employee wellness programs. The main component of this would be Sally, the salad-making robot Heinen’s introduced in one store last spring, which could be placed in office break rooms and offer custom salads and grain bowls that tie in with workers’ food prescriptions. Foltz said he’s still working through what distribution, machine replenishment and other details of that program would involve. Heinen’s will also keep a Club Fx-branded Sally inside one of its stores, said Foltz.
Retailers have introduced membership and subscription programs in recent months, with many centered on e-commerce services that have become wildly popular during the pandemic. Club Fx, said Foltz, also stands to capitalize on fundamental shifts in behavior during the COVID-19 era — namely, an increased focused on health and immunity that could last for a very long time.
"Food is connected so significantly to health, that it only makes sense that we deliver a service like this," he said.