Selerant User Conference Keynote: Engaging Health-Minded Shoppers Through Product Innovation

March 2, 2019

On Tuesday, September 25, 2018, I was honored to speak to a room filled with the leading product innovators from global food companies at the annual Selerant User Conference. You may be asking yourself, huh? How is it that a Registered Dietitian is speaking at a software company meeting? Selerant is a leading company in developing product lifecycle management PLM software and provides compliance solutions. Here’s how it all fits together..

There are a million things to consider when conceptualizing and launching a food product, such as, ingredients and product labeling (nutrition facts, health claims, ingredient listing) that can vary greatly by the country in which the product is sold. Speaking to this audience was (a challenge) and great opportunity to combine my years of experience working with retailers and brands to help consumers make healthier shopping decisions. As some of you know, I left my job as a nutritionist at Harvard University to pursue a career in the food industry because I strongly believe that the most impactful way to change public health is to work with (or in) the food industry. Here was my greatest opportunity of all time (to-date) to speak to the people that are making decisions about what products to develop. I had to make the case that healthy (or healthier products) are a worthy business investment that will pay big dividends. My key message: “What is good for consumers is good for business.” That is, investing in consumer health is ultimately the path to a successful business now and into the future.

Now, more than any other time in history, the food industry has the greatest opportunity to transform public health through product innovation. A little over a decade ago when I made the career move to work for a retail supermarket chain, “natural foods” and promoting healthy products was a niche category. I was faced with opposition every day from category managers and buyers that didn’t believe health was mainstream. To my esteemed colleagues at Bashas’, they were sort of right back then — healthier products had not hit the tipping point yet. However, I am forever grateful to the former CEO, Mike Proulx and my former boss, Robert Ortiz, the former SVP of Sales and Merchandising who were my champions. They took the risk on me and believed in promoting health and wellness in a conventional supermarket chain. If they could witness what is happening in the retail supermarket industry today – Wal-mart is the leading seller of organic foods, Sprouts Farmer’s Market, a local AZ competitor is now competing on the national level and conventional retailers (Kroger, ShopRite, H-E-B, Publix) are growing healthier sales by the minute. 

In my presentation, I had to make the business case for health and wellness by providing statistics — the data that drives financial decision-making in the food industry. Here’s just a few examples of the evidence that health isn’t a trend…it is mainstream for business now.

  • The Consumer Goods Forum, an organization that represents $3 Trillion in revenues from global food companies and retail giants that have come together to commit to product reformulations that improve health. In less than 5 years, 34,000 products have been re-formulated – 60% of companies have reduced sugar; 75% have reduced sodium; and 50% of companies have reduced saturated/trans fat in products.
  • Halo Top ice-cream (low-sugar, calorie-controlled pints) sales have grown 2,500 % in the past 2 years and sold more pints than any other brand in the category — including Haagen-Daz and Ben & Jerry’s.
  • Consumer demand for greater transparency is driving product manufacturers to create “clean labels” — shorter lists of recognizable ingredients, no artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. (Read my Today’s Dietitian article on this topic)

Thanks to Sunil Thomas and the Selerant team for giving me the opportunity to share my passion with global food companies and their product innovators! There’s plenty more examples to highlight the impact health is having on the retail food environment. In the year to come, my new venture, will continue to highlight these examples as I will continue to work with software companies (!), retailers, food brands, NGOs and non-profits to promote health everywhere food is sold.

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Changemaker Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN, is transforming public health by re-envisioning the way food is understood and promoted. A seasoned supermarket dietitian and former Harvard nutritionist, Barb leads the way by offering innovative retail solutions that forge connections between food marketers, market RDs and consumers hungry for truth.


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