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Good for the Gut: New Programming at Supermarket Promotes Gut Health
By Lindsey Getz

As more people begin to recognize the importance of gut health—not only for chronic issues such as irritable bowel syndrome but also for general well-being—it's affecting the way they grocery shop. Weis Markets, a mid-Atlantic supermarket chain based in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, has recognized the increasing attention on gut health and responded with a new health and wellness program called Nourish Your Gut. Unveiled in late June, the program is now well underway and helping shoppers make educated decisions about food to promote good digestive health.

According to Beth Stark, RDN, LDN, lifestyle initiatives manager at Weis, the program uses signage to highlight 15 foods that supply naturally occurring prebiotic fibers or probiotics that may promote gut health. These include onions, whole wheat bread, sourdough bread, apples, asparagus, bananas, kefir, oats, yogurt, beans, lentils, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and tempeh. The idea is to keep the messaging simple enough that shoppers take the time to read it.

For example, the store's sign for kefir suggests sipping it on its own or blending it into a smoothie. The signage also highlights key nutritional attributes, pointing out kefir's calcium and vitamin D content.

"[Advertising] space is at a premium, so we have to be mindful of what we can fit in," Stark says. "Messages must be kept to the point and easy to understand. Shoppers are saturated with information in general, so we needed to keep this simple."

As part of the effort to educate shoppers on digestive health, Stark says the program also incorporates the Weis Pharmacy team to promote the message. It's part of an overall concept that food is like medicine.

"Food is a preventive way to live well and feel well," she says. "We worked closely with our pharmacy to promote this program by developing a prescription sheet that details foods that are good for gut health. The idea was to mimic what a prescription script would look like. Pharmacy visitors also received a coupon for probiotic yogurt. Both were handed out when shoppers visited the pharmacy."

The dietitians across Weis' chain of stores report that the program is having an impact. When hosting a store tour or a special workshop, the dietitians often make a point to talk about the signage. Emily Renninger, RDN, LDN, in-store dietitian and healthy living coordinator for Weis' Lewisburg and Selinsgrove locations in Pennsylvania, says she particularly likes that the program highlights some foods, eg, kefir and kimchi, that shoppers might not be familiar with.

"The program makes for an enriching and dynamic educational experience for our customers during tours, tasting events, and nutrition workshops—or even just when shopping on their own," Renninger adds.

Erin Long, MS, RDN, LDN, retail healthy living coordinator and in-store dietitian for Weis' Enola, Pennsylvania, location, adds that she appreciates how the information is presented in a way that makes it easy for customers to understand.

"I also like that we call out foods that contain both probiotics and prebiotics, since many people don't know the difference," Long adds. "This makes [for] an excellent teaching point."

Stark says the success of the program has been encouraging and that Weis likely will focus on additional gut health programming in the future.

"In general, I think more and more shoppers are making the connection between what they eat and how they feel," Stark says. "Knowing that certain foods make them feel better than others—and that there are added benefits for their digestive health—is really pushing them toward making better choices. There's a lot of emerging research out there linking gut health to everything from mood to diabetes, and, of course, stomach health. But, in general, who doesn't want to feel better? It's definitely an important trend that's not going away."

— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pennsylvania.