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From the annual FMI Show in Chicago…
In a "Close Up" session scheduled for this afternoon at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) annual show, Jim Wisner of Wisner Retail Marketing will address the issue of "What Women Want: Meeting The Wellness needs Of Women Shoppers." To get a lowdown on this important subject, MNB engaged Wisner in this exclusive e-interview.

MNB: When you define health and wellness issues as perceived and acted upon by women, how broadly do you do so? Does it go so far as to include all the trendy diets that so many people embark on for reasons of health, fitness and/or appearance, even if those programs may not ultimately be healthy?

Jim Wisner: Kevin, the research we have done suggests that women define health and wellness far more broadly than most men realize—it involves a whole continuum of issues including personal care, beauty, emotional health, and just plain feeling good about yourself. It is really less about health conditions and more about well-being.

Diet and weight loss topics are among the most pervasive issues from the standpoint of daily living—it is a lifelong quest for many women and certainly may include diets that are often ill-advised. Supermarkets can help by playing a more proactive role in making sure that women get the right information.

MNB: How do you reconcile what would appear to be people’s desire to be healthy with their apparent desire to indulge themselves with products that are luxurious and decidedly non-health oriented?

Jim Wisner: This really is a struggle of balancing indulgences with compensating behavior. (e.g. “Since I had the fudge sundae, I better have a salad or a diet soda to make up for it.”) Curiously, the more individuals indulge the more it fuels the market for health compensating product choices. As always, moderation is always the best choice; but that’s never been an overriding characteristic of our society.

MNB: When you speak of women as being whole health gatekeepers, is it specifically in relationship to their children, or also to their husbands? And how do they deal with kids and husbands differently in terms of their acting as gatekeepers?

Jim Wisner: Women truly are the driving force in most households as it relates to the health and wellness of both their husbands and children. Men will “fix it when it’s broken” but unless otherwise encouraged—usually by their spouses—don’t change behavior easily. Children learn from their environment and it is still mom who mostly decides—or agrees—“what’s for dinner”.

MNB: When you talk about women, who are you referring to?

Jim Wisner: For our purposes, we look at adult women shoppers. All are different, but these differences are more in the degree of emphasis along the continuum I referred to; as women get older life challenges and real health concerns gain importance. For younger women, concerns are more directly focused at emotional and personal appearance issues.

MNB: When you look down the road, how do you think today’s girls’ interests and needs will be different from women today, when those girls become tomorrow’s women?

Jim Wisner: Tomorrow’s women will be challenged with rapidly changing family structures, ethnic and demographic shifts, and an ever-increasing need for improved speed and convenience. New technologies and store formats will change how women’s needs are fulfilled even if the needs are relatively the same. Those with young adult children certainly are already getting a glimpse of how their values and motivations may be different from our own generation. What will not change is that women will still be the primary shoppers and primary gatekeepers for the family’s needs. However, for the next twenty years or so the consumer market will still be driven primarily by baby boomer women. If you understand that group, you will have a much better appreciation the most important trends over the near term. .

MNB: What would you identify as the single biggest opportunity that has been missed by retailers and/or manufacturers?

Jim Wisner: Achievement in catering to the female shopper is not a “one thing” answer; it really involves understanding in total how a woman relates to the store in each category of goods that she buys. What most guys don’t get about women is the degree to which there is an emotional connection with the shopping experience, oftentimes a very subtle one. Yes, you do have to get price, quality, and the measurables right, but you also have to understand what makes a woman say, “This is MY store”.

The Network of Executive Women (NEW) notes that only 9% of chain store and CPG executives today are female, even though women account for over 80% of the customers. If you were opening a golf shop, you might expect more than 9% of the employees to have played golf. Getting more women involved in decision-making roles will help retailers connect more effectively with their primary customers.

MNB: What’s the single best achievement you’ve seen in catering to the female shopper?

Jim Wisner: It’s really not a single achievement, but it is found in those few retailers that have developed a broad scope of connections with woman shoppers throughout the store. The solutions involve not only product and price, but a decidedly female-friendly environment that provides information, offers intelligent product groupings, and is sensitive to the time constraints of women. You see thoughtful “touches” throughout the store. If you look across the retail landscape we can all identify a number of companies that put business objectives within the context of customer (women’s) needs and not the other way around. Those always seem to be the folks who are succeeding.

MNB: Would you agree that not only do retailers and manufacturers have to do a better job of providing products for women, but also information about how to use those products? (It would be our perception that the former is done much more effectively than the latter.)

Jim Wisner: The recent FMI Shopping for Health survey noted that the single biggest opportunity gap (i.e. what I want vs. what my store offers) was in providing relevant health and wellness information. Our research has consistently supported this finding. In the study we did for GMDC, Women’s Well Being Merchandising Strategies, only 18% of the shoppers surveyed felt that the information they wanted was readily available in their store. This is not difficult to fix, but few retailers have successfully addressed the issue.

MNB: Ultimately, at the end of the day, what do women want?

Jim Wisner: After the movie What Women Want was released, Mel Gibson responded to this question by saying “I think the answer lies somewhere between conversation and chocolate”. As a man, I can only profess to have knowledge but only limited understanding. This is really a question that each male retailer or consumer packaged goods manufacturer should address individually to their wives, girlfriends, or customers. We may find out that it’s not as complex as it seems—if we only listen.

MNB: And while you may not be addressing this issue in your workshop, what do you think men want? And can this be reconciled with women’s perspectives?

Jim Wisner: Guys are simpler and more task-oriented as shoppers. While men may not be totally irrelevant to supermarkets, they are certainly less important than women. Addressing the shopping needs of women will not result in anything that is incompatible with what men want. Frankly, what most men want is not to shop at all.
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