Skip to main content

Proving Ground


Most grocery chains have made strides as valued resources for diabetic shoppers or those concerned about the epidemic health condition.

For supermarkets, the process of educating and providing counseling to some of the 26 million Americans who have diabetes, and the countless millions at risk for it, has been evolutionary.

It’s a process still being played out at many supermarkets throughout the country as the Alexandria, Va.-based American Diabetes Association (ADA) projects that one in three American adults will have the condition by 2050 if current trends continue.

“I think we are starting to make an impact as long as we continue to educate on the importance of an active lifestyle, consuming more fruits and vegetables, and choosing the right foods to eat,” says Julie McMillin, director of health and wellness at West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee.

Hy-Vee, which, along with Price Chopper Supermarkets, Giant Eagle and Wakefern/ShopRite, is at the forefront of health-and-wellness initiatives, represents the direction many supermarkets have taken to help shoppers manage chronic conditions like diabetes.

In these retailers’ stores, shoppers can find nutritional signage systems, learn how to read package labels, go on store tours, plan menus, attend healthy cooking demos and receive one-on-one counseling with registered dietitians.

Further, supermarkets with pharmacy operations are reaching out, forming partnerships with community institutions and health care organizations to help patients better manage and monitor their diabetes, and then steering them back into the store to buy appropriate foods.

Diabetes is a complicated condition in which food plays a vital role. It’s also a big business that crosses multiple supermarket categories, including vitamins and nutritional supplements, personal care, blood sugar testing kits/supplies, diagnostics, medications, and fitness equipment. The ADA puts the annual cost of diabetes at $245 billion.

“Education is a big part of the problem, and diabetics don’t seem to be getting it from the doctors,” notes Silke Ullmann, nutrition and marketing man­ager at St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Almased USA Inc., which sells a meal replacement product. “Supermarkets can be a good source to trust, and educated employees in the stores are key.”

“You can teach people right where they are buying their food not only about the food, but about their own condition,” observes Amy Campbell, nutritionist and manager of clinical education at Joslin Diabetes Center, in Boston. “That’s why supermarkets should have dietitians on staff.”

Supermarkets have invested in hiring more dietitians: According to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), about 33 percent of its members employ them on-site.

Hy-Vee’s Certified Centers

Employee-owned Hy-Vee has more than 200 registered dietitians, 900 pharmacists and 150 chefs at the point of purchase. These employees provide knowledge and guidance in the aisles.

The grocer is currently in the process of adding more certified diabetes centers, which provide services ranging from diet to medication adherence and glucose monitoring, in its eight-state marketing area. Hy-Vee now has about 10 locations, and expects to add 15 to 20 sites by the end of the year, according to McMillin. Its first center was established in 2006.

Certification is through the Chicago-based American Association of Diabetes Educators. Each center requires that at least one pharmacist and one dietitian be certified, a process that requires continuing education and approval by insurance companies and Medicare. A physician must also oversee the program, which, McMillin notes, “is just the start of how much more involved and educated we are going to have to be in health and wellness.”

One challenge for Hy-Vee staff, however, is “to stay current and provide accurate, science-based information,” she acknowledges.

In its stores, Hy-Vee helps diabetic shoppers make healthy food choices through its NuVal Nutritional Scoring System, introduced in 2009; use of Facts Up Front labeling; and its Dietitian Pick signage, which calls out healthy items.

Price Chopper Adds QuickCare

Schenectady, N.Y.-based Price Chopper flagged diabetes on March 25 with American Diabetes Association Alert Day. The promotion gave shoppers information related to their risk of developing diabetes.

“Unfortunately, too many people with diabetes have not received any nutrition education,” says Mona Golub, Price Chopper’s VP of public relations and consumer services. “We offer shopping guidance, nutrition tours, community education programs and individual appointments in a number of stores.”

Through its pharmacies, Price Chopper’s diabetes patients can get free medications, supplies and a testing meter offered through the chain’s “Diabetes AdvantEdge” program; courtesy refills through its “Refill AdvantEdge” initiative; and daily counseling and support. Additionally, the retailer has opened two QuickCare walk-in health centers.

Price Chopper has also installed medical kiosks called Health Stations, which provide free blood pressure, weight, heart rate, blood oxygen and temperature readings. The stations can communicate electronically with local insurers to help determine care for their members.

To make it easy and convenient for diabetes shoppers to navigate the food aisle, Golub points to the NuVal system, which includes three measures of carbohydrate quality; Eating Well recipes with a “Diabetes Friendly” indicator; and nutrition analysis.

Giant Eagle’s Survival Guide

Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle relies on its team of dietitians to provide one-on-one counseling focused on creating individualized diabetes management plans and empowering customers to take ownership of their condition, and equipping them with the necessary tools and resources.

The chain offers a six-week program providing information on medication, diet and exercise through hands-on activities and new concepts. Meanwhile, store tours show how to select foods properly, and demonstrate how to read food labels and nutritional content.

Additionally, the chain’s dietitians are taking a multifaceted approach that provides individualized programs and an easy, convenient shopping experience.

Wakefern/ShopRite’s Dietitians

The retailer-owned cooperative Wakefern Food Corp, based in Keasbey, N.J., has more than 80 dietitians at its ShopRite stores who provide free one-on-one consultations with menu planning, as well as group classes (nutrition education, along with pharmacy and medication compliance) for those with diabetes, says Natalie Menza, corporate dietitian.

While annual glucose screenings and retail dietitian programs are ongoing, there’s an additional focus on screenings, tours, demos and cooking classes during Diabetes Awareness Month in November, she adds.

“There is an enormous future for food retailers in helping customers combat obesity and diabetes,” affirms Don VerHulst, chief science officer at Wayland, Mich.-based INBalance Health Corp., a company that sells healthy snack bars suitable for diabetics. “Awareness of the importance of making wise and healthier purchases by the customer has never been higher.”

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds