The Case for Supermarket RDs
May 22, 2019
While I was a dietitian working at Harvard University, often times, I would run into existing and former patients (students, faculty, staff, etc.) while grocery shopping or dining in the local environs of Harvard Square. Although my food and dining choices vary just like anyone else, it was these “teachable” moments that influenced my decision to offer patients the opportunity to meet for a session in their preferred supermarket in the nearby area. After dozens of these in-store nutrition counseling sessions, my passion for using the supermarket as a learning laboratory became the inspiration for the name of my private practice for nearly a decade in Boston: Neighborhood Nutrition. In addition, it also fueled my desire to pursue a career working in the food retail space. In fact, I left my position at Harvard to work as a corporate supermarket dietitian for an independent grocery store chain based in Arizona.
Supermarket RDs Bring Trusted Expertise
Today, there are more than 800 retail RDs employed in the US at both the corporate, in-store and regional levels. In my experience, offering food and nutrition education where food purchase decisions are being made is extremely powerful in improving healthy informed choices. Consumer’s lives are busy and complex, yet most people have something in common – if healthy eating is affordable, tastes good and is convenient, they will buy it. Supermarket RDs know their customers and they engage them at precisely the right moment.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by the International Food Information Council, 80% of consumers indicate they made a change to their eating habits as a result of a conversation with a healthcare professional — and dietitians were listed as one of the most trusted sources.
On par with professional pharmacists, Registered Dietitians (RDs) have degrees in nutrition science and have also completed specialized training and passed a board examination in order to place the R.D. initials behind their name. The credentials are earned through specific educational and training requirements set forth by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In order to maintain the RD credential, dietitians are also required to earn 75 continuing education credit hours over a 5-year cycle throughout their entire career.
The Best Supermarkets Employ RDs
Health clinics, on-site experts offering diet, nutrition and other advisory services are becoming popular differentiators for retailers, according to a survey conducted by the Consumer Goods Forum.
“For companies whose products touch on health and wellness, the implications are significant as retailers make the transition from being a provider of products to a purveyor of experiences, services, and solutions. ~Consumer Goods Forum
In an era when consumers demand convenience, personalized experiences and immediate answers, retail RDs help supermarkets deliver on shopper’s expectations. What is more, their scientific training and credentials support customers’ trust and boost their store’s cachet.
Supermarket RDs benefit all players
It gives me a thrill every time I think of it — supermarket RDs are one of those rare cases where everyone wins. Retailers win through increased sales volume, improved customer loyalty, and engagement as well as corporate-wide commitments to wellness. Healthy brands and commodities like fresh produce and seafood win as RDs feature them and provide solutions to customers on how and why to incorporate them into a healthy lifestyle. Most importantly, everyday shoppers win. They get answers to their nutritional questions, solutions for their individual needs and conditions, and a convenient personalized experience designed to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Check out this presentation I did about Supermarket RDs.
Deloitte. (2018). Health & Wellness Progress Report. LINK
International Food and Information Council. (2018). 2018 Food & Health Survey. LINK
Changemaker Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN, is transforming public health by re-envisioning the way food is understood and promoted. A seasoned supermarket dietitian and former Harvard nutritionist, Barb leads the way by offering innovative retail solutions that forge connections between food marketers, market RDs and consumers hungry for truth.
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