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Wellness for the Long Run

All of us have been reading a lot recently about the increase in obesity, low-carbohydrate diets and vegetarianism. The foodservice industry, as a whole, has been debating the role of the individual and the industry, as well as how to respond accordingly to these trends.

Many distributors have lately developed programs to address these consumer trends. Many have not. How should your company approach these critical topics without the need for a crystal ball, which separates the fads from the longer lasting trends?

Let's start by looking at the broader-based trend from which all of these topics emerge - wellness. It is of critical concern to the 45-plus demographic which, by 2010, will constitute 90% of the total population growth.

It is the trend toward wellness that is driven by the millions of baby boomers who seek longer, healthier lives, and obesity is a part of that. It is the trend toward wellness that you find students who seek vegetarian alternatives at colleges. It is the trend toward wellness that is forcing our school lunch programs to re-examine their offerings in an attempt to keep kids fit and healthy.

Many in the distribution community want to "do the right thing" but are not quite sure what that is or if they're already doing it. The issue is not simple but the challenges can be managed if we focus on two critical areas:

  • What do your customers and their consumers want?

  • Who in your organization is responsible for wellness trends, educating your organization internally and training those who communicate externally?

    Knowing Your Customers
    Every product you carry exists to service the operators, based on their menu that reflects their customers' tastes. In each and every "new" area of development, whether it's Indian cuisine, vegetarianism or low-carbohydrate diets, your customers look to you to help them source and deliver these products. How deep you go in understanding and how proactive you are in servicing these product categories depends on the demand cycle and how flexible you are to meet that demand. To meet the demand of your customers, here are a few suggested approaches:

  • Build a wellness strategy and identify how your company's products and services fit into this strategy today and three years from now.

  • Since there are many niche products and unproven sellers in this category, develop a special wellness program. Perhaps lower the minimum order requirements, cluster orders, or ask operators for alternative suggestions to meet their needs.

  • Appoint a wellness specialist to lead this effort.

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