Skip to main content

Leading Customers to Functional Foods

These highly nutritious products aren’t found only in store perimeter
Functional foods are already tucked among many of the common offerings on store shelves.

Stretching your grocery dollar can mean taking advantage of every sale, coupon, promo or bulk item, or it can mean making sure your pennies are put to work for you, which includes food that helps your health. Functional foods, which may be referred to as “superfoods,” are loosely understood to mean foods that offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition through physiologically active components. These benefits can include an improved state of health and well-being and/or reduced or minimized risk of certain diseases or health conditions.

Although eating more functional foods may sound like a fancy upgrade to an eating pattern, functional foods are found across your retailer’s in-store or online marketplace. Often, functional foods are easily found and best consumed in their “whole food” minimally processed form. However, functional foods also expand into the fortified, enriched or enhanced food category, as these additives to food can improve the benefit of the product.

[Read more: "EXCLUSIVE: What's on Retail Dietitians' Minds?"]

Following are four key grocery departments where you can direct your customers to find functional foods.


If there are any obvious products with health-related functions at the grocery store, they’re lurking in the produce department. Fruits and vegetables have a natural built-in ability to protect our health now and in the future, namely through phytonutrients (plant compounds that strengthen our own defenses and help our bodies perform at their best), vitamins and minerals. Keep your shoppers engaged with this department by stocking bright and cheerful produce from wall to wall, offering steamer bags of various curated vegetable and seasoning mixes, and cross-merchandising kitchen gadgets like vegetable spiralizers and strawberry hullers. Be sure to have markdown bins with “just about to expire” produce so your store can still make profit and customers can still make banana bread.

Plant-Based Proteins

The current default when we hear plant-based proteins is to picture meat substitutes or “analogs.” Consider “beefing” up these sales, however, by advocating for classic plant proteins: tofu; beans; peas (like split peas, chickpeas or black-eyed peas); lentils; tempeh; and even soy-based dairy items. Lean on your in-store culinary staff to find ways to use these ingredients alongside animal-based main courses, or even to create vegetarian dishes for your hot bar that target plant-based patrons. Some customers could be hesitant to throw affordable lentils or tofu in their carts, but accompanying these items with recipe cards that take the guesswork out of how to prepare and enjoy them at mealtime should dispel any confusion.  


Whether drinks are fruity, bubbly, creamy, fermented or flat, how we sip can have a big impact on our health. Thanks to drinks like orange juice with added calcium, kombucha made with fermented tea, shakes with added protein, or seltzer waters with probiotics, the beverage area has no shortage of functional items. Try to offer many popular beverages in both single-serve and jug-size options so customers can try them first and then commit to a bigger size on the next shopping trip. Or you can offer discounts on stacking different products: A medley of various functional beverages can come with a better price tag than one purchased separately. Consider having an additional refrigerated beverage case near fresh ready-to-eat meals so that grabbing these drinks is a no-brainer for on-the-go shoppers.


We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves with the idea that the entire snack aisle now boasts a health halo. However, terrific go-to snacks with functional effects include air-popped popcorn or popcorn kernels, nuts, seeds, or dried fruit. Keeping with the theme of turning to “whole foods” first, find ways to promote the VIPs of this section. Set up a trail mix station with clear glass jars to display tasty combos like almonds + dried cranberries + sunflower seeds, or cashews + popcorn + pistachios. Make digital or print infographics to guide customers on what to do with various seeds: For instance, did you know chia seeds make a great pudding, sunflower seeds can be made into seed butter, or pumpkin seeds can be crushed for a perfect protein coating? Be your customers’ trusted source of food inspiration.

Functional foods are already tucked among many of the common offerings on store shelves. Encourage your shoppers to explore functional foods, particularly in the produce, plant-based protein, beverage and snack aisles, to increase basket size. 

Advertisement - article continues below
This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds