Whole Foods Wellness Club focuses on consumer education

Aug. 25, 2011

The following is an excerpt from a recent conversation on RetailWire, with comments from its panel of contributors.

What does $739 get you at Whole Foods?

It gets you a one-year membership ($199 one-time processing fee plus $45 a month) in the natural grocery store chain's new Wellness Club in Dedham, Mass.

The new program, developed for the company by two physicians and a registered dietitian, includes a lifestyle evaluation, nutrition education, coaching, skill-building classes, Supper Clubs with healthy four-course meals and a 10 percent discount on food in the store.

"We are extremely excited to help build this program," said Matthew Lederman, M.D., in a press release. "The overall structure, support system and team that we have in place will help address individual needs, inspire changes in lifestyle and help members reach their optimum health."

John Mackey, founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods, said, "This is like nothing the grocery world has ever seen before and we're thrilled to offer it to our communities and to be a pioneer in the effort of providing support for our shoppers."

The Wellness Club program includes introductory nutrition classes, a four-week "immersion" period that is followed by a four-week "experimental" phase, emphasizing how members can lead healthier lives.

"We've found that providing the support of like-minded individuals greatly increases the success rate for people looking to make positive lifestyle changes," said Alona Pulde, M.D. "Supper Clubs, interactive classes and practical skill building in this type of group setting is part of what makes this program so unique."

The Dedham store, as well as others planned in Chicago, New York City, Princeton, N.J. and Oakland, Calif., plan to seek out local partners in areas such as yoga and fitness to offer lectures and classes on site.

Whole Foods will make the decision whether to add other locations following a test of the first five Wellness Clubs.

RetailWire BrainTrust comments:

I think it is a terrific opportunity for grocery stores. We have let the drug stores grab the "wellness" mantle and in so doing, take grocery share as well. Instead of treatment, the concept of wellness and disease prevention by a combination of good foods and an exercise regimen is the antidote to develop a successful point of difference by grocery stores in their battle with drug stores for share of mind, share of stomach, and share of wallet. - Richard J. George, professor of food marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph's University

In general, in freemium models, I think about 90-95 percent take the free option. That means that Whole Foods has traded off a little bit of revenue for leaving 90 percent or so of their shoppers out in the cold. To me, this doesn't seem very advisable. I would have gone free, and integrated across touchpoints--in person seminars, digital and mobile apps. - Joel Rubinson, president, Rubinson Partners Inc.

Whole Foods equals health to consumers. That $199 one time processing fee for the health evaluation, nutrition education and coaching and skill building alone is a steal. The $45 a month is not too low a monthly fee for a company the size of Whole Foods who is looking to extend their brand and has the monetary resources to make this work.

Yes, the economy may influence the success. However, as a dietitian and personal trainer, I work with hundreds of clients a year who are willing to pay extra for their groceries because they want wholesome, healthier options. If the wellness club is combined with a store, even better. The consumer leaves from their workout motivated to eat well with new recipes and nutrition goals. They stop in the store as they leave the club to fill their carts. Maybe I'll contact them for a position in the NYC store. - Mary Jane Detroyer, dietitian, Mary Jane Detroyer & Associates

For more information on this topic, visit our marketing research center.

What do you think of Whole Foods' new Wellness Club concept? Continue the conversation in the comments below!

Topics: Marketing , Supermarkets & Grocery Stores

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