How to Implement a 'Food as Medicine' Retail Program

Helping shoppers adopt healthful eating habits
food as medicine
“Food as medicine” programs target customers, employees and/or the community, and focus on eating to stay well, managing health conditions, improving food security or promoting food safety.

January brings renewed enthusiasm for healthier habits, including the way we eat. This year, retailers and retail dietitians can use a “food as medicine” approach to help shoppers adopt better habits — and potentially help retailers earn higher return on investment (ROI) — all year long.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation (Academy Foundation) has developed several research-based resources that describe strategies to implement and evaluate “food as medicine” retail programs, the key role of the retail dietitian and case studies of existing initiatives (see below). The effort was supported by a planning grant from Walmart.

What is ‘Food as Medicine’ at Retail?

In general, “food as medicine” uses food and nutrition to support health and wellness. At retail, programs ideally are led by retail dietitians, with support throughout the company. Programs target customers, employees and/or the community, and focus on eating to stay well, managing health conditions, improving food security or promoting food safety. If, like the vast majority of retailers, you already offer similar programs, you’re using a “food as medicine” approach.

Applying ‘Food as Medicine’ at Retail

Following a scoping review of the food retail health-and-wellness landscape, the Academy Foundation developed five models that retailers can use to implement and evaluate “food as medicine” programs. Combining program models led to better results, including positive health outcomes and ROI.

Path-to-purchase marketing: These programs are intended to produce behavior or environmental changes by increasing shopper awareness of, and knowledge about, nutritious foods, or by increasing the foods’ availability or affordability. A few examples are nutrition shelf tags, product nutrition information on a shopping app or website, cooking demos, media interviews by retail dietitians, product placement, price discounts, and coupons.

Food incentives: Incentives promote nutrient-rich foods through, for example, coupons and vouchers for food-insecure families, digital coupons for customers, and discounts for employees.

Prescriptions: Retail dietitians prescribe fruits and vegetables or other foods to people with health conditions or with food security issues. The physical “prescription” could be a coupon, a voucher with monetary value, or a standard prescription to present in-store.

Personalized nutrition education: Retail dietitians engage directly with shoppers to encourage positive behavior changes. Examples include articles, blogs or classes on health and nutrition topics, supermarket tours, and one-on-one counseling for conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

Medically tailored nutrition: This is a comprehensive approach for shoppers with more complex health issues. Retail dietitians prescribe personalized meals or boxes of food aligned with the shopper’s health condition. This approach is often combined with medical nutrition therapy by a dietitian. 

  • Learn More

    To get started with “food as medicine” at retail, access the following resources and more from the Academy Foundation at

    • “Food as Medicine Opportunity in Food Retail”
    • “Food as Medicine Retail Nutrition Landscape Paper and Framework”
    • “Food as Medicine in the Retail Setting: A Comprehensive Guide to Program Evaluation” 
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