Should dietitians patrol Kroger’s supermarket aisles?

Photos: Kroger
Apr 12, 2022

Shoppers can find advice on selling floors on what running shoes to wear, how to fix a leaky faucet and what to take for an upset stomach. Nutritional advice from grocers? Not so much.

Kroger wants to change that.

An independent research study funded by Kroger and conducted by University of Cincinnati reportedly validates the positive impact of retail-based dietary interventions, including the benefits of in-store dietitians.

The study, “Supermarket and Web-based Intervention targeting Nutrition (SuperWIN),” showed that in-aisle teaching with a Kroger registered dietitian significantly increased adherence to a heart-healthy dietary pattern compared to traditional nutrition counseling alone. Adherence further improved when in-aisle teaching was paired with education on how to use Kroger’s delivery and app, as well as OptUP, Kroger’s nutrition rating system.

The findings were revealed recently at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session & Expo.

“We have always believed in the power of Food as Medicine in managing and preventing disease before it starts,” said Colleen Lindholz, president, Kroger Health, in a statement. “The SuperWIN study provides real world evidence that our dietitians can help customers eat better and live healthier lives through use of technology, education, and shopping tools.”

Dylan Steen, MD, of the Division of Cardiovascular Health and Disease at the UC College of Medicine, in the statement said the study underscores how purchasing data being collected by retailers are “progressively being linked to nutrition information and thus could be used by dietitians, nurses, pharmacists, and physicians to provide the best, individualized guidance to patients.”

Kroger said the study’s findings also support Kroger’s Food as Medicine platform that seeks to position the grocery store as a destination for preventive healthcare. Kroger began delivering “Food as Medicine” messaging in 2019 soon after launching OptUP and started assigning nutrition technicians to stores and licensed dietitians to operating divisions.

In May 2020, the chain introduced a free “telenutrition” service that offered two-way video chats with trained dietitians to help customers develop personal nutrition programs. Kroger piloted a program that year in which physicians could write “food prescriptions” that patients fill at a local grocer.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why aren’t dietitians or other nutritional experts widely accessible at grocery stores dispensing nutrition advice? What do you think of positioning the grocery store as a destination for preventive healthcare?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Who wants to be scolded by a stranger in public? I am not too sure this will be popular. "
"Why aren’t dietitians widely accessible at grocery stores dispensing nutrition advice? Good nutrition advice means fewer sales for the supermarket."
"I think it’s a great idea to have a professional available to provide nutritional information as I am shopping – as long as it’s done in the right way..."

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30 Comments on "Should dietitians patrol Kroger’s supermarket aisles?"

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Bob Amster

At the potential expense of party-size bags of Lay’s potato chips or giant bags of Chips Ahoy? Is it the responsibility of run-of-the mill (read “non health food-minded”) supermarkets to favor healthful eating when they sell all types of foods, or the responsibility of the consumer to get educated?

Liz Crawford

“Patrolling the aisles?” Who wants to be scolded by a stranger in public? I am not too sure this will be popular. That person should be trained in Karate. Sure, for a limited segment of shoppers it will be a step forward, but if many people are belligerent about even wearing a mask, imagine how they’ll respond to someone telling them what to eat!

Paula Rosenblum

What will really be fun is if the dietitian gets into an organics debate with a customer. It’ll be like Facebook, only in person. Either the dietitian will recommend organics and the customer will lecture about fake news and high prices, or she will not, and the customer will lecture about the “poison” in conventional foods.

This will be great! I can see the videos now.

David Slavick

Let’s not overlook the high price points placed on every organic product sold in a Kroger — whether produce or in the specialty aisle. Make those products priced at a reasonable premium vs. charging $4.50 for a 1/2 gallon of organic milk or $6.00/lb for organic/farm raised chicken breasts.

Steve Montgomery

I agree. They lost me at the word “patrolling.” I expect the percentage of people who want to have a conversation in a public setting like a supermarket about diet is extremely low. These interventions are likely to lead to customers finding another place to shop.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Dietitians aren’t widely available because they are an expense that doesn’t generate incremental revenue, unlike sales people in other environments. Too often, they are telling us what not to buy – who wants to go to a store to feel guilty (with apologies to the masochists out there)?

Michael La Kier

This is a case of “do as I say, not as I do” for retailers. If they truly want to be in the nutrition business there are plenty of products they should stop selling – many private label or deli items they cook – that offer low nutritional value. That being said, having roving nutritionists in the store is awkward and intimidating at best and authoritarian at worst.

David Slavick

Spot on!

Zel Bianco

Why not? It’s a great idea and one that delivers the right information at the moment of truth – in the grocery aisle. It also delivers a powerful message that the retailer truly cares about you, the shopper, and is using the data collected for a great purpose.

Christine Russo

I love the idea of an interaction with a food consultant where you actually purchase the food! There are in-store solutions with tech – I like – for virtual or live remote assistants via video. This allows for full coverage, lower costs and more access.

7 months 17 days ago

Thanks for the shout-out, Christine. The labor shortage in retail makes any personal touch challenging, especially for high-value consultations such as nutrition. And as you point out, Vocinity can provide video chats with conversational (virtual) agents or live agents with just a simple QR code scan.

Neil Saunders

This is not more widely available for a number of reasons. Firstly, unless retailers charge for it, it would be an expense that didn’t generate much incremental revenue. Second, some suppliers of “unhealthy” products would not be particularly enamored if people in the store were advising customers to avoid their products. Third, most shoppers probably don’t want it – at least not while they’re trying to do their weekly shop. A fourth I’d add is that advice constantly changes and shifts so consumers get thoroughly confused. The best policy is to buy clean food, have a balanced diet, and to exercise. I don’t need a nutritionist in the aisle or elsewhere to tell me that!

Gary Sankary

I am a poster child (think “before” picture in case you’re wondering) for dietary intervention.
However I feel that I get enough unsolicited dietary advice from people I live with. I’m not going to be open to getting even more from complete strangers. I think having a dietitian available for questions is OK. Patrolling the aisles and looking for people like me, not so much.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
7 months 18 days ago

In some stores (again, the clientele has to want the service), they are available in the nutrition aisle or concierge kiosk near the front and I think that is where they belong. Customers should seek their advice when needed.

Doug Garnett

I like the general “food as health” concept. I hate the in-store dietitians idea. While I’m sure it starts at some point with good intent, the idea doesn’t show a good understanding of human psychology. Kroger needs to allow some more open ended research on the reality of this idea. I’m not surprised that people would say in research what they feel they should say – the moral answer. Unfortunately, if that’s the best Kroger’s researchers can discover, then they need new researchers.

Jeff Sward

Culinary advice? Great — bring it on. Diet and lifestyle advice — not so fast. Do people not know that Fruit Loops barely qualify as food? Do they not know about the billion calories of sugar sitting on the shelf in the soda aisle? Or the billion grams of fat sitting on the shelf in the chip aisle? (Hmmm — an entire aisle for soda and an entire aisle for chips.) Of course they know, just like they know the healthy benefits of exercise. And yet here we are, a much more obese nation than we were 20-30 years ago. What could be more obvious than the pluses of wearing masks and getting vaccinated? Not a lot of effort required to do either. And yet, here we are.

Kathleen Fischer

From the consumer’s point of view, I think it’s a great idea to have a professional available to provide nutritional information as I am shopping – as long as it’s done in the right way. However from the retailer’s point of view, there are likely to be more negatives arising from the practice without enough sales uplift or increase in consumer loyalty to justify it.

Gene Detroyer

Why aren’t dietitians or other nutritional experts widely accessible at grocery stores dispensing nutrition advice? Good nutrition advice means fewer sales for the supermarket. If the grocer were genuinely concerned, they would delist many of the less nutritional items.

Since 1961, Americans have been eating almost 30 percent more per capita. That 30 percent is more revenue and profit from selling unnecessary products.

Phil Rubin

The health insurers will be first in line to partner with grocers for this. As drugstores position around wellness it’s not surprising that there is research and planning surrounding this approach. Obviously it can’t be done via “patrols” but needs to be a source of information that interested customers seek out. Why not add it as a benefit to a shopping app instead? The applications already exist but perhaps not in every grocer’s app.

Dick Seesel

Given that the vast majority of the food sold in my neighborhood Kroger store is bad for you (and it’s not just Kroger), I see the presence of a dietitian as more about optics than a real attempt to change consumer behavior. This is hardly the same thing as CVS deciding to drop tobacco products as a meaningful effort to “sell” health.

Frankly, I’d rather see Kroger spend the payroll on better restocking of its shelves and more open checkout lanes.

Shep Hyken

I’ve enjoyed reading my fellow BrainTrust members’ comments. I don’t think the grocery store wants to shame people into healthy eating. If so, they would stop selling “less healthy” food choices. Instead, I see this as a tremendous value to the consumer. If I want to eat healthier, having someone in the store to guide me is a great value.

Ken Lonyai

Ridiculous marketing hype.

A six-month study is not sufficient enough to make lifestyle impact determinations and according to the study summary “Blood pressure was not improved by dietary intervention.” So what was the measure of success – a change in DASH scores? So what?

When CVS decided that it wanted to take a stand for health consciousness it stopped selling cigarettes. Kroger has patrolling dietitians yet sells a plethora of junk food and processed food with junk ingredients. If Colleen Lindholz was truthful in Kroger’s position about food as medicine, the store would emulate CVS and get the garbage items off of their shelves. Until that’s done, this in nothing more than a marketing exercise, even with the apparent support of outsiders.

7 months 17 days ago

I do not doubt the validity of Kroger’s findings, nor their good intentions to provide consumers with reliable nutritional counseling. But it should be voluntary. It seems to me that this is another example of trying to make someone else responsible for decisions and choices that we make. Do we really believe that consumers are ignorant of basic nutritional choices? That they don’t know that fruits and vegetables are better than chips and soda? Educate and inform to the best of your ability but, at the end of the day, this is still America and people have the freedom to choose – even if you don’t agree with their choices. And to be responsible for the consequences themselves.

David Slavick

Seriously? Who funded the study — was it Kroger? CVS dropped tobacco products — makes perfect sense. Was a significant decision that reduces traffic, shifts to C-Stores, etc. Will Kroger adjust the products they sell to promote healthy eating habits? I’d suggest starting with a much better produce department, and drop the deep fried wings, salty snacks and sugar-laden baked goods.

Gwen Morrison

Giant Eagle has had dietitians in their stores for years and for a subset of customers, this has established incredible loyalty. I’ve heard shoppers (selected for an annual meeting) describe how their Giant Eagle dietitian worked with them personally to evaluate labels, identify certain prepared foods to avoid and get really familiar with the produce department.

The testimonials celebrated customer weight loss and renewed energy and appreciation for the long-term health benefits of a balanced diet. A quick desktop search indicates expansion of Giant Eagle’s program to identify healthy foods for their shoppers.

Craig Sundstrom

I don’t know that Tom’s analogy holds: in-aisle plumbing advice — to the extent that it even exists, where does he shop, anyway? — is designed to acquaint shoppers with various brands/features with which they have little or no normal interaction. More to the point, the shopper most likely has identified a clear need, and has a set of questions/requirements. Few people go to the grocery for a tutorial on what to buy; and while this program is designed to show them what they’ve been missing, I have low confidence it will be greeted warmly: Do you recommend low-cal or no-cal for my Jack and Coke?…”Uhm, well…”