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OP-ED: How Grocers Play a Key Role in Healthy Eating

Consumers should be reminded that they have an important ally at the store
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The grocery store has evolved to become a destination for nutrition, health and well-being.

As we hear more about food and nutrition in the media daily, we recognize that consumers are exposed to an overwhelming influx of advice and conflicting information. It is often difficult to sort through what is most credible in the world of health and well-being. While we have general guidelines based on the latest science, it is important to recognize that each individual’s approach to healthy eating is very much a personal experience that should be tailored to our unique, individual needs. 

Shoppers looking to eat healthier, more nutritious meals should remember that they have a key ally in their grocery store, with Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) across the entire food industry working to assist consumers with personalized nutrition guidance, from ingredient substitutions and recipe ideas to product innovations and accurate labeling. Evidence-based healthy eating tips can help consumers stretch their food dollars while preparing nutritious, delicious meals for their families. 

[RELATED: How Nutrition Incentive Practitioners Can Easily Partner With Grocery Retailers]

As the last stop on the farm-to-fork journey, grocers are a critical resource to empower shoppers looking to improve their health and well-being as they make informed purchasing decisions. Understanding the benefits provided by foods in every aisle can lead to gradual, meaningful and long-term behavior change. From personalizing food and beverage recommendations to spotlighting product labels and claims, nutrition professionals across the food industry are constantly helping grocers implement new strategies to support and nurture healthy shopping, cooking and eating habits. 

Eating healthier, more nutritious meals is clearly becoming a higher priority for shoppers. Research from FMI – The Food Industry Association found that 44% of shoppers are exerting more effort into selecting nutritious and healthy options compared to a year ago. Given this increased focus on health and well-being, RDNs on both the food retail and supplier levels can be invaluable resources to help shoppers explore ways to reach their personal goals and enjoy delicious meals and snacks, because an overall healthy pattern of eating is all about balance and choice. 

Numerous options exist for our customers to receive credible, personal and actionable nutrition guidance from food industry RDNs. According to FMI’s "2024 Report on Food Industry Contributions to Health & Well-Being," 82% of responding retailers and suppliers employ RDNs, a growing field expected to increase 7% faster than average over the next decade per the U.S. Department of Labor. Across the food industry, dietitians are playing key roles in expanding strategic leadership positions that touch on everything from research and product development to nutrition-focused programming, social media, digital marketing and labeling initiatives. 

Our RDN’s connect food and nutrition to health and well-being by providing science-based information on how to shop, cook and eat to enjoy food while also preventing and managing various diseases and illnesses. Both in-person and virtually, RDNs conduct one-on-one counseling and group classes to tailor recommendations based on total family needs, certain health conditions, activity level, medications and more. 

To ensure shoppers get the most comprehensive, holistic information to support their health and well-being goals, our registered dietitians often work with retail pharmacists to offer direct access to food as medicine programs and health care services, such as medically tailored groceries and diabetes self-management initiatives. And it’s not just about the food; our stores offer items like blood glucose monitors, over-the-counter remedies and blood pressure cuffs. 

[RELATED: Grocers Weigh In on Food as Medicine]

The fact is that the grocery store has truly evolved to become a destination for nutrition, health and well-being, and the food industry has a unique opportunity to address gaps in health care, improve public health and meet consumers’ growing desire to eat and enjoy healthier meals. In addition to the science-based nutrition information provided by food industry RDNs, grocers also increasingly offer more private brand products to help customers stock their pantries with more nutritious and affordable quality staples. 

Yet there is still work to be done. Research shows that when families eat more meals together, they eat more fruits and vegetables and maintain healthier eating habits overall, and the food industry is working hard to make sure customers have meal planning options that support the health and well-being goals of even the busiest families. To support that mission, the FMI Foundation created National Family Meals Month in 2015, which has now become the Family Meals Movement, to promote the many nutritional, physical and mental health benefits of families eating meals together.  

The program now boasts the involvement of more than 1,500 businesses and allied health organizations across the country, and more than half of the companies surveyed by FMI report participating in the program in 2023. The FMI Foundation is further strengthening its Family Meals Partnership with USDA's resources through the introduction of co-branded messaging for the industry to help even more Americans make healthier food choices.  

One benefit of the program is that it encourages grocery stores to implement initiatives to help families that would like to eat more meals together. For example, time-strapped shoppers can rely on their grocers’ foodservice departments to help them prepare “hybrid” meals that combine families’ home-cooked favorites with semi- or fully prepared nutritious items from the grocery store, be it grab-and-go side dishes, quick-cooking whole grains, fresh fruits or frozen vegetables. 

The grocery store provides a natural, convenient touchpoint for shoppers to combine evidence-based guidance from registered dietitian nutritionists with innovative solutions to positively impact their shopping, cooking and eating habits, and grocers and RDNs across the food industry are ready to help shoppers find inspiration to reach their health and well-being goals with sound advice and delicious, nutritious food choices.

Leslie Sarasin is the president and CEO of FMI − The Food Industry Association, and Krystal Register is FMI’s VP of health and well-being. FMI works with and on behalf of the entire industry to advance a safer, healthier and more efficient consumer food supply chain.

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