Adding Dietitians to the Grocery Payroll

Discussion
Sep 05, 2012

Annette Maggi, described by The New York Times as "chairwoman of the supermarket subgroup of the food and culinary professionals practice group at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a consultant to the retail and food manufacturing industries," was recently quoted in the paper saying, "There’s been an explosion of interest in having a dietitian among grocery store retailers in the last three or four years."

Hy-Vee, with 235 stores, has a registered dietitian available in almost every location although some serve clusters in rural areas. Following consultations with customers, they walk the aisles indicating appropriate foods, aiming to "capitalize on growing consumer awareness of the role food plays in health and wellness," according to the Times. Produce News adds that store tours enable dietitians to point out healthy alternatives in every department. The nutritional scoring system, NuVal, is also explained, along with the ways it can help people make decisions when shopping on their own.

Chains such as Meijer, Giant Eagle, Bashas and H-E-B also have dietitians and are among some 400 members of Ms. Maggi’s group. Wegmans’ Jane Andrews was the first dietitian on its staff in 1988; her team is now six strong. At Meijer, activities include "appearances at community events, health assessments with company employees, in-store cooking demonstrations and educational programs on health subjects like diabetes and heart disease."

Printed and internet material are provided as well by dietitians who say retailers are increasingly recognizing their value. Shari Steinbach, lead dietitian at Meijer, cites increased sales for healthier items, appointment requests from customers and conference invitations from manufacturers.

Speaking to Produce News, Allison Yoder of Hy-Vee says the grocer aims to provide "food experiences," encouraging people to join tours that they bump into unexpectedly while shopping. She has noticed "more and more shoppers interested in playing a more active role in the preventative part of health care … and making a difference in their own health by what they eat."

Should more supermarkets hire dietitians? How many should be made available to customers and how should grocers promote their presence?

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16 Comments on "Adding Dietitians to the Grocery Payroll"


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David Livingston
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This is probably a good idea for stores doing $800k plus per week located in areas with higher education levels.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I’ve seen dietitians provide added value and differentiation, generally in upscale stores. I believe their numbers will increase. For the most part, I don’t see a need for one dietitian per store, but it depends on the market situation. Spreading it out so there are promoted events nearly every day in one store or another, and a dietitian floating between stores, seems practical to me.

Dietitians are rarely promoted well, when they do exist within a chain. I was surprised to learn, by word of mouth, that a local store here offers customized individual store tours for people with different health problems (or family members with health problems). If you’ve got a dietitian, let the world know!

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 8 months ago

Perhaps we should rely more on our tax dollars at work for this particular function. When we pay our President’s salary, we get a bonus: A dietary expert in the person of the First Lady. She provides dietary advice in quantity and with unquestionable quality. We should take advantage of this superb food authority while we can.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
9 years 8 months ago

I commend Hy-Vee, Wegmans, Meijer, Giant Eagle, Bashas and H-E-B for their forward thinking in adding services like dietitians to their staff. A growing number of consumers are seeking advice on how to feed their family a healthier meal while staying within a budget. A dietitian on staff can help customers navigate departments and better understand what to look for when creating a balanced and healthy family meal.

I would suggest open houses a few hours each day in different departments of the store. This way the dietitian can share their thoughts about different departments and the healthiest way to shop that department. This is also a great and unique way for grocers to promote Private Label items.

I would also like to see product demos done by dietitians so people can try some of the healthier recipe ideas being promoted. You could tie some of the demos and recipes to key themes like back-to-school lunches, summer picnics, healthier BBQ’s, healthier holidays (maybe “Healthy, happy, holidays” as a theme).

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 8 months ago
I hate to differ from my esteemed peers, but aren’t dietitians most needed in poor neighborhoods? It seems to me one of the things H-E-B has excelled at over the years is demonstrating REAL concern for the health outcomes of its lower-end customers. It doesn’t take a rocket scientists to realize that poorer people often feel ignored by larger businesses or that they are one of the most health-challenged demographic cohorts. Showing a household with an annual income of $250,000 how to diet is one thing. Showing a household with an annual income of $25,000 how to prepare nutritious, cost effective meals for their children is quite another. Sorry — the affluent have doctors, and personal trainers and, sometimes, even personal nutritionists. If they can’t figure out how to eat well, there’s more of a problem than a dietitian can solve. The poor on the other hand have fewer options, less information and, most importantly, less access to good nutrition. Sure, more supermarkets should hire dietitians, especially given the terrible eating habits and lifestyles that… Read more »
Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 8 months ago
This is something all of us in the business should do better. I am a diabetic going on 6 years, and when I was first diagnosed, I decided to get involved 100% to make my life better, and help my customers as well. I cannot afford a dietitian, but I can teach classes on this subject, due to my training in the industry, and tons of research on diabetes. I walk the aisles and explain to my customers what a glycemic index is, among other important food choices they need to know. We make no-sugar-added desserts in our deli, with agave nectar, or Xylitol as substitutes, and prepare low-carb macaroni salad using Dreamfields pasta. I have trained my staff to answer basic questions to help our customers, and it has paid off in a big way. We have built trust and integrity into our program, and continue to create new Gluten-Free, and sugar free foods to help satisfy the special needs of our clients. This fall will be our 5th year that we will offer… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

What is the mission of the store — providing a great in-store experience, providing the most efficient process, providing great customer service, educating consumers? What is the reason for using a dietician — providing entertainment, educating individual consumers, answering questions, changing the way consumers eat, providing information? The mission and the reason for using a dietician need to match. If there is a match, scheduling and staffing issues need to be addressed. There is no easy answer.

Saravanan Logu
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I agree with the view that grocers should hire dietitians. In my perspective, grocer should make their private label products address more health concerns and have the dietitians promote those in-house. The product placement can be tailored to the top health concerns of the people location of the store.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Ryan makes a good point. However, low income shoppers tend to be in areas where the lower volume food stores are located. Kind of hard to justify the cost of a nutritionist when your store is only doing $300k per week.

It’s unlikely that low income shoppers would demand that their supermarket hire a nutritionist, whereas in higher income areas, shoppers will ask for this service and pay extra to get it. I really don’t see much of an ROI providing nutritionists to low income areas.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

The initial impact of a resident dietitian in a grocery store will bring in the curious for a while. As the novelty wears off, so will the interest. In the aftermath this will be another attempt to address a public interest with an impotent scheme to quench the public’s desire for information about product and/or services.

Another means to facilitate this latest trend would be to hire scientific and chemistry translators to describe in simple terms the features and benefits of the ingredients found in various products. These bits of information could be supplied in tear sheets located in close proximity to the products discussed and within store “info-apps” for smart phones and tablets to distribute to the public. Another idea would be to identify product that is supplied with easy to understand ingredient, dosage/portion size and proper storage means information to the consumer.

Zel Bianco
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Dietitians should be available in all supermarket chains. This is a great resource for the customers, and having a dietitian available to share knowledge shows that the retailer takes an interest in their customers. Walking tours throughout the store to point out healthy alternatives and share nutritional and dietary knowledge is a great way to do this and having scheduled, promoted events at various retailer locations for subjects such as diabetes or heart disease prevention can promote the dietitians’ presence to the customers.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

And history repeats itself… again. When I started in the grocery biz in 1977, my employer had “Home Economists” in every store. Today we call the “dietitians.” And when expenses climb, and store payrolls need to be cut, guess which jobs will be the first to go?

Brian Numainville
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

While I think the need for dietitians, based on the obesity problem in the U.S., crosses all age, income, gender and other boundaries, it is more likely that you will find them in stores that can generate the sales to cover the cost. Perhaps there is some way to develop a program that could serve clusters of stores in lower income areas that may otherwise have no access to a dietitian’s services.

Tom Redd
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Grocery stores have historically built relationships in their community to build emotional bonds that go beyond a price point. Adding dietitian to their staff acknowledges that their customers are interested in leading healthier lives, and making informed decisions about the food they eat and provide to their families. The dietitian may be similar in role to the pharmacist at the drug store, building trust and adding credibility to the banner and brand. Imagine the opportunities ahead to influence a whole new shopping basket at the point of decision.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Retail food is behind the curve on both healthy eating and cooking at home. Viewership of cooking TV shows continues to explode, yet this has not changed the market split between eating away and at home. The Baby Boomers, with the highest percentage eating at home, are now becoming concerned with what they eat. Retail food should couple dietitians and chefs to teach, illustrate and create a positive reason for shopping.

Justin Time
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

A&P’s Registered Dietitian, Jacqueline Gomes, visits many of the A&P stores regularly and blogs about eating healthy. Their Live Better Wellness program has been around for several years and provides beneficial information at the shelf denoting healthier foods.

But other grocery chains such as Aldi and Bottom Dollar Food make it a point to steer their customers towards the healthier sections of the store such as Bottom Dollar Food’s walk in produce cooler.

As long as a supermarket chain is devoted to selling fresh produce and healthier foods and utilizes the professional knowledge of a dietitian, the better perceived it is. Staffing each store with a dietitian might be overkill, but having healthy eating information available prepared by a registered dietitian will benefit both the customer and the store.

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