The link between "food" and "fitness" rarely is made particularly well by supermarkets. For that matter, many supermarkets have trouble making the link between "food" and "nutrition," "food" and "health," and, even more incredibly, "food" and "pleasure."
It is as if many retailers, locked into the notion that they are selling packaged products, cannot see the implications of food, the romance of food, the possibilities of food.
FoodFit.com is a website that is under the leadership of Ellen Haas -- a consumer advocate and former US Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services -- and it is a strong effort to make some of those connections. And it is an approach that should have a high profile; FoodFit.com recently signed a multi-year agreement with America Online that will have the company providing food and health related content across several AOL brands, including the House & Home AOL channels, CompuServe, and Netscape.
The FoodFit approach is keyed to three primary activities:
- Healthy Eating
- Healthy Cooking
By offering users the opportunity to create a personalized profile on the site, FoodFit works from the beginning to integrate eating habits with living habits. For example, it inquired about my age, height, weight and gender; it asked me how much fruit, grain, meat, and dairy I consumer on a daily basis; it queried me about my level of physical activity.
Once that was done, FoodFit offered me an analysis of my overall eating habits, telling me that I was doing just fine in terms of grains, protein, fat, sugar, sodium and exercise... but need some improvement when it comes to my weight, as well as my fruit, veggie and dairy consumption. (Damn!)
What sets FoodFit apart, though, was the way it extends that knowledge to the menu planner. When I told the site I wanted to prepare a seafood entrée, it gave me some 16 options, and identified 10 of them as having some relationship to my nutritional and health needs as established by the profile.
Very smart -- because it allows me to choose a recipe intelligently -- in this case, angel hair pasta with scallops in a spicy tomato sauce. The recipe was easy to follow -- as were the steps that permitted me to pick extras to go with the meal (bruschetta and roasted asparagus salad, in case you are interested).
When you think about it, this really is suggestive selling without the selling. I left the site ready to shoot over to Stew Leonard's to buy all the ingredients necessary for the meal.
There's also components of the site that include:
- A calculator that helps consumers prepare food safely.
- A weight control guide.
- A function that allows you to create a personalized shopping list.
The Retail Connection
FoodFit is working to develop relationships with retailers that will allow the site to become a component of their sites; this strikes me as a very good idea, because it will allow retailers to make the kinds of food connections that they simply aren't good at making all by themselves.
The site is attractive and intuitive, but there are some areas where it could do better:
- Creating recipes and menus for people on specific fitness programs would seem to be a good idea. For example, I'm a jogger, and I was curious if there were food items that it would recommend that could be performance-enhancing (I can use all the help I can get). There was a brief piece on what to eat in the morning before a workout, and a tip on when to buy running shoes. But nothing else... which was disappointing. (Maybe that roasted asparagus salad is performance-enhancing; I can only hope.)
- There also seemed to be little recognition of certain health-related issues. Again, one example would be that my profile suggested that I need to consume more dairy, and there was no place to tell the computer that I'm mildly lactose intolerant. And when I typed "lactose intolerant" in the search window, nothing came back. I suspect, however, that as the site evolves this will improve.
But these really are minor quibbles. Between the strong team that Haas seems to have assembled and the expert advisory board -- including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, Sandy Gooch, and John Ash of Fetzer Vineyards, plus a number of food and health related associations -- it appears that FoodFit.com is a strong contender to survive the dot-com fallout.
As strong as the AOL relationship may be, however, it will be critical that retailers use FoodFit as a way of creating linkage between the products they sell and their relevance to consumers' everyday lives. That won't necessarily be an easy jump to make, but it probably is of considerable importance if food retailers are to remain relevant themselves.
Content Guy's Note: By the way, if you want to check out a terrific resource book -- and one that would be useful to shoppers -- take a look at Great Adventures in Food: A Fresh Market Cookbook, written by FoodFit.com's founder, Ellen Haas. (My favorite chapter is # 5 -- "Bright Awakenings: Best Breakfasts.")