Retail dietitians gathered in Chicago in early June for Progressive Grocer’s third Retail Dietitian Symposium, designed to help retail dietitians make the most effective connections with consumers and build support for their position at their respective banners.
Highlights of the two-day event, which featured 15 impactful presentations and valuable continuing-education credit hours, were best represented in two panel discussions, Defining the ROI of Retail Dietitians and the Share Group Panel, which reviewed key issues and challenges identified by retail dietitians (RDs).
Defining the ROI of Retail Dietitians included findings from PG’s proprietary retail dietitian survey. Diane Quagliani, of Quagliani Communications Inc., provided a review of the research and moderated the panel, which included Jane Andrews, corporate nutrition manager at Wegmans Food Markets; Shirley Axe, health and wellness manager at Ahold USA; Bob Pessel, director of pharmacy at HAC Retail; and Shari Steinbach, corporate dietitian and Healthy Living manager at Meijer.
Retailer respondents to PG’s survey earlier this year reported that the retail dietitian role is on the rise, with 60 percent of retailers employing at least one dietitian; an additional 6 percent of retailers indicated that they’ll be adding the position in the coming year. On average, companies employ 25 dietitians. Less encouraging is that RDs feel their role isn’t understood, which ranked as the biggest challenge RDs face (24 percent), followed by challenges of customer awareness/communications (12 percent); inadequate staffing (8 percent); and ill-informed customers/competing with misinformation (6.7 percent).
RDs must demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of what is a burgeoning role in the grocery retail industry, panelists agree. Unfortunately, set metrics or standard ROI measurements don’t exist. While more than half (53.3 percent) of survey respondents indicated that their company sets goals for RDs, more than half of those respondents (54.7 percent) didn’t know who sets their goals. Part of the problem may be where the position is housed, as 53.3 percent of respondents indicated that the position is part of the health-and-wellness department; an additional 24 percent indicated that RDs are part of the pharmacy department, while 17.3 percent reported that RDs are part of the marketing/merchandising organization.
“Grocery banners have different goals, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the role of retail dietitian isn’t consistent industry-wide,” said Andrews, of Wegmans.
The most frequent ROI measure is program participation (51 percent), followed closely by customer satisfaction (48 percent); other high-ranking metrics include general volume of customer engagement (45 percent) and social media impressions (41 percent).
Following are recommendations from the panel:
- ➤ If you don’t have goals, find out how to get them in place. “We have goals that align all the way to the top,” said Steinbach, of Meijer. “You have to be active in setting those goals. You need to know the action steps to achieve success.” Goals may include a “hard” ROI measure such as a minimum sales percentage increase, or “soft” ROI goals such as interacting with consumers at community events.
- ➤ Set goals that suit your place in the company structure. RDs at the corporate, regional and store levels will have far different goals, as will RDs based in marketing, consumer affairs and employee wellness. Retailer size and the number of RDs on staff matter, too. A goal for a store dietitian in one region might not work for a store dietitian in another region, due to differences in customer preferences and demographics.
- ➤ Consider vendor partners to drive product sales. RDs at larger retailers often work with category managers to secure vendor support such as monetary donations, samples, and coupons for community events and in-store programs.
- ➤ Track your contribution to the bottom line. If goals include a sales increase, use tools such as loyalty cards and QR codes to track sales related to programs.
Meeting RD challenges
The Share Group Panel, moderated by Karen Buch, owner and principal of Nutrition Connections LLC, consisted of Kris Lindsey, online dietitian at Hannaford Supermarkets; Leah McGrath, corporate dietitian at Ingles Markets; and Julie McMillin, assistant VP of retail dietetics at Hy-Vee. The panel discussed a number of key challenges for RDs, including connecting with Millennials, the rise of online shopping, managing misinformation, and transparency.
Millennials are viewed as a challenge because they’re less likely to engage in traditional programs such as face-to-face meetings or special events. They expect an immediate response, and are more likely to post a problem to social media than take it to a store manager. Retailers need to work with Millennials where they are: online. Millennials are in stores daily, however, rather than stocking up weekly. They’re more likely to try recipes, for example, and when they find solutions they like, they will share, again online.
Hannaford’s Lindsey said her game plan is knowing what matters to Millennials: They value fresh ingredients, and she works to promote simple recipes with fewer, more interesting ingredients. “If we’re not there with answers for their busy lifestyles, they’ll go somewhere else,” she noted of her strategy of offering quick solutions. In addition to time, many Millennials also lack money, so it’s important to teach them to shop on a budget.
It’s no surprise that the increasing number of shoppers who are online will start shopping online. This is a potential hurdle for RDs, who value personal connections with shoppers to learn their needs and respond accordingly. It’s important for RDs to be part of the e-commerce platform of their respective retail banners. It’s likely the e-commerce team is looking for more content, and would welcome blogs and recommendations. These might be as simple as posting, “Do you have a question for the store dietitian?” or more complex solutions such as pop-ups that promote the health benefits of products or suggest healthy meals based on what shoppers are placing in their carts.
The role of many RDs includes promoting sponsored products, but there’s a line between advertising a product and recommending it. Panelists agreed that all retail banners should have a disclosure statement. “It’s about doing the right thing and being transparent with your customers,” says Lindsey, of Hannaford.
McMillin, of Hy-Vee, recommends working with the retailer’s communications team to create key position statements and ensure that messaging is always consistent. For multiple platforms — website, shopper app, online shopping portal, etc. — messaging needs to be consistent and available throughout the system.
There’s a lot of nutritional misinformation readily available to consumers, and rather than dismiss it as unfounded, RDs should recognize that their shoppers listen to these influencers. While these sources aren’t credentialed and often spread false information, people listen because the information is usually appealing, and it can be as simple and direct as “eat this, don’t eat this.” It’s important not to tell people what to do, panel members cautioned, but sharing facts, and framing nutrition in a positive, simple, direct manner, will resonate with shoppers.
In addition to other valuable presentations, attendees enjoyed engaging with product and solutions providers exhibiting at the event, including Avocados from Mexico, Earthbound Farm, Enjoy Life, Litehouse Foods, McNeil Nutritionals, Meat & Livestock Australia, MilkPEP, the National Confectioners Association, the National Peanut Board, the National Pork Board, Nestlé Nutrition, Uncle Ben’s, Vestcom, Wisdom Natural Brands, Beanitos, Domino Foods, GO Veggie!, National Beverage Corp., Nuval, Silver Palate, Trans-Ocean Products and Way Better Snacks.
“Grocery banners have different goals, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the role of retail dietitian isn’t consistent industry-wide.”
—Jane Andrews, Wegmans Food Markets