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How food-as-medicine programmes can advance retailers

4 Jun 2024

Food programmes can not only address consumer health concerns but advance the position of retailers wanting to contribute to tackling chronic diseases in the US, according to experts speaking at the Food Is Medicine Summit.

The event, which was organised by the Food is Medicine Institute and the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, was held in April, providing an opportunity for industry leaders to discuss best practices, challenges, and ways to move forward.

How food-as-medicine programmes can advance retailers
© iStock/mastersky

It was led by Stefany Shaheen, co-founder and president of Good Measures, a company focused on providing an interface between prescriptive nutrition and health management.

Walmart, Instacart, and Kroger participate in Food Is Medicine Summit

During a panel entitled “Research advances in food retailing”, Shaheen brought together leaders from Kroger, Instacart, Season Health, and Walmart to discuss how food retailing can advance the accessibility of food prescription programmes throughout the country.

“By becoming an integral part of the healthcare ecosystem through partnership with Good Measures, food retailers expand their market reach and tap into new revenue streams,” she explained.

“Overall, the engagement in this programme cultivates a deeper connection with customers, which ultimately helps to drive long-term sustainability and growth in an increasingly health-conscious consumer landscape.”

Consumer loyalty is key to successful outcomes

The programme simultaneously works to engage with users by fostering consumer loyalty through the benefits they see to their health and wellness when they participate.

The summit discussion touched on ways that retailers can advance access to nutritious food that is tailored to people’s specific health needs, as well as taste preferences. This includes medically tailored meals as well as in-demand delivery services, all aiming to help individuals access food that can help improve health outcomes.

Food delivery business Instacart is one of the leading retail partners in the programme, participating under its Instacart Health division. Through its participation, it is aiming to help individuals and families that lack easy access to healthy foods.

Tackling poor health outcomes in food desert areas

"Our platform enables more than 95% of US households – including 93% of those located in food deserts – access to delivery of fresh, culturally relevant groceries. Through our partnerships, we’re helping build personalised food prescription programmes, tailored to individual health conditions," said Sarah Mastrorocco, vice-president and general manager of Instacart Health.

Filling the gaps in the availability of healthy and nutritious food is a significant problem in many parts of the developed world. In the US particularly, the gaps between health outcomes, socio-economic status, and the availability of good healthcare are all closely linked.

According to the USDA, 44.2 million people lived in food insecure environments in 2022, a figure that points to households having less varied diets or the necessity to lean on federal assistance to get by.

Tying in with this, the US 2022 census found that 37.9 million Americans were living in households where income levels were below the official poverty rate.

Programme has already demonstrated tangible results

By involving retailers, the programme aims to help some of the most socio-economically disadvantaged households, providing easier access to food that can lead to an improvement in their health outcomes.

Evidence is available that the programme is meeting its goals, with positive health outcomes being demonstrated in the first year of participation. Independently verified results show that a year after its December 2022 launch, 68% of participants had maintained or reduced their blood pressure, while 72% had maintained their weight and 4.5% had lost weight.

“The ultimate goal of the Good Measures Good Food Prescription is to help people feel better and improve access to healthy foods, which reduces health care costs for payers and employers,” said Shaheen.

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