The ROI of Food as Medicine

Which type of program would be the most successful at your retailer?
food as medicine
The Food as Medicine movement features efforts that retailers can make to improve health through preventive medicine via food and nutrition security, as well as eating for disease management.

"Food as Medicine” has been a catchy slogan used in the retail setting over the past few years, often employed to recognize the ways that food can influence health. Notable milestones include the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) formalizing a definition of the philosophy to their Definition of Terms list in 2019, as well as releasing “The Food as Medicine Opportunity in Food Retail” report with FMI — The Food Industry Association in 2021. Also, in a slight variation on the term, the “Food is Medicine” initiative made national headlines as a focus of the September 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

Much of the Food is Medicine movement has been concentrated on efforts that retailers can make to improve health through preventive medicine via food and nutrition security, as well as eating for disease management. 

Five key Food as Medicine program model categories identified by the AND Foundation, which also significantly impact your retailer’s bottom line, are prescription programs, incentive programs, medically tailored nutrition, path-to-purchase marketing and personalized nutrition education. 

Prescription Programs

Imagine a health professional writing out prescriptions for produce rather than medications for your customers. This is what prescription programs aim to do, without undermining the need for prescription medications as appropriate. These prescriptions may appear as a coupon, voucher, or simply a written note from a physical or digital prescription pad, to be redeemed at your retailer in exchange for the prescribed food.

Incentive Programs

These programs aim to lessen the financial hurdles of affording nutrient-dense food for those with limited means to buy healthy groceries. Coupons, vouchers, discounts and rebates may all be examples of approaches to encourage consumers to build better baskets. Conversely, products with less desirable nutrition, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, may be taxed.

Medically Tailored Nutrition

This comprehensive therapy takes the complexities of medical nutrition guidance and translates them to tailored meals or food boxes geared toward specific consumer health conditions. Some medically tailored nutrition options in the marketplace even send daily ready-to-eat customized meals to customers’ doors to simplify healthy eating. A more subtle version of this concept at your retailer might be dedicating a case in the freezer aisle or deli department to curated frozen or prepared meals that address such common chronic diseases as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure.

Path-to-Purchase Marketing

Dedicated efforts to market better-for-you foods, most notably in ways that may induce behavior change, can go a long way toward improving consumer health. A variety of strategies that increase awareness, knowledge and attitudes toward nutrition, including signage, in-store announcements, cooking demonstrations, television promotions and circulars, amplify the Food as Medicine message. This can be accomplished while simultaneously increasing shopper basket size.

[RELATED: How Culturally Relevant Food Marketing Promotes Health]

Personalized Nutrition Education

In a sea of indirect nutrition advice from outlets like social media or magazines, people are seeking individualized nutrition instruction, specific to them and their needs, lifestyles and preferences. Registered dietitians, and the credible resources they create or activities they lead, are a trusted resource for your shoppers. Many retailers currently employ dietitians or other health professionals who can deliver supermarket tours, in-aisle education, group classes or private nutrition coaching to help customers achieve their health-and-wellness goals, while building loyalty. 


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation, “Food as Medicine Retail Nutrition Landscape”; Yoder A., Borra S., Brown N.; food-as-medicine#paper 

FMI — The Food Industry Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation: “The Food as Medicine Opportunity in Food Retail 2021.” Accessed Jan. 9, 2024. food-as-medicine-opportunity-in-food-retail

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