RD SYMPOSIUM: Winning with Wellness


Research about retailers’ dietitian programs and consumers’ thoughts about meal occasions, sampling the latest better-for-you products, and opportunities for peer and supplier networking highlighted Progressive Grocer’s second Retail Dietitian Symposium, held June 9-10 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, Ill.

More than 100 attendees, including retail dietitians from leading grocery chains across the country, along with suppliers and trade group representatives, assembled for a day and a half of education and idea sharing. (Some were on their way to the FMI Connect conference being held in Chicago this week –- watch Progressivegrocer.com and @pgrocer on Twitter for the latest news from the show floor.)

Leading the agenda on Monday afternoon, I presented PG’s latest research on retail dietitians and how they’re helping grocers leverage a health-and-wellness message. This exclusive proprietary research, encompassing 92 respondents to PG’s electronic survey last spring, revealed, among other details:

  • 52 percent of responding retailers employ at least one retail dietitian (RD), some chains up to 20 or more.
  • More than two-thirds consider the RD’s primary role to be communicating with the public and educating customers on wellness issues.
  • Grocers that employ RDs are far more engaged with customers on wellness issues than retailers without them.
  • RDs and their retailers continue to struggle with the challenge of demonstrating ROI for providing wellness services.
  • RDs want to take a more active role in purchasing and merchandising decisions at their retailers.

Full results of this year’s survey will be published in PG’s August 2014 issue.

Extensive Speaker Lineup

The agenda also included a full range of speakers from among the RD, research and supplier community, discussing the latest health, trend, demographic and product information.

  • PG’s Retail Dietitian Advisory Panel (pictured above) led a discussion of thoughts and strategies among attendees. Among the hot topics: GMOs (“There’s a lot of misconceptions about agriculture out there,” said Ingles Markets Corporate Dietitian and panel member Leah McGrath) and how to measure the RD’s ROI to management, along with innovative ideas to promote healthy eating, like personalized “Dietitian’s Pick” shelf tags, coupon redemptions and community partnerships. Also on PG’s advisory panel: symposium were emcee Barbara Ruhs of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, Kroger corporate dietitian Molly McBride, HAC Retail corporate dietitian Alyson Dykstra and Family Fresh Market/SpartanNash RD Mary Jo Brunner.
  • Bradley Nix, partner with Brand Chorus, shared strategies for banners to leverage their social media presence. While “food and drink” is one of the top five most searched terms on social media, barely half of the nation’s supermarket chains have a significant presence on social media, Nix said, noting that most grocers seem to look at social media as “a necessary evil.” Nix suggested that with the right social media savvy, retail nutritionists could become the next celebrity chefs. By leveraging the RD’s credibility and creating a context that reflects the values and needs of consumers, grocers can “tell a good brand story [that] people will follow,” according to Nix.
  • Samantha Cassetty, nutrition director for Luvo, laid out her company’s goal to become “the Starbucks of healthy food.” Luvo’s range of frozen entrees and breakfast items is available at select grocers across the country and on Delta Airlines. Luvo completed a successful pilot menu program at Cleveland Clinic, and the company is working on a bistro concept. Luvo sampled its wares during the conference, among other exhibitors in the “Health and Wellness Zone.”
  • Lori Fromm outlined the Milk Processor Education Program’s "Great American Milk Drive" campaign, through which supermarket shoppers can donate at checkout to deliver gallons of milk to families in need.
  • The Category Management Association’s Gordon Wade offered advice on how retailers can “make sure your banner is identified with health and wellness.” Key to that is getting the category on the corporate category scorecard to provide its worth and get upper management to fully embrace the category’s sales potential. To stop channel leakage and retaining people who are eating outside the home in increasing numbers, offer consumers solutions that save time and inspire confidence, and show how grocery solutions beat restaurants on price and convenience.
  • Nestle Health Science’s Karen Lundgren demonstrated how nutritional needs of the elderly are changing and how RDs can help them.
  • Personal Health Recording for Quality of Life’s (PHRQL) Paul Sandberg showed how RDs can boost their engagement with consumers by using the right digital tools, counseling and other strategies.
  • Marianne Smith Edge, of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), presented a wealth of information about the eating and food-purchasing habits of the current hot demographic, Millennials.  Among IFIC’s findings: Interest in healthful eating is up sharply among Millennials and men in the past year, Millennials are deficient in produce consumption, and they eat less according to time of day and more by hunger, enjoyment and need for energy. They also trust health professionals as a source of nutrition information, offering RDs an opportunity to serve a group described as “overlooked” and “underserved.”
  • Brian Levy, president of Pulse Health & Wellness, presented data suggesting opportunities for RDs to get more involved with dietitians in their communities. One stat in particular: 81 percent of dietitians at large have never collaborated with their retail counterparts, but the same amount would like to do so.
  • Marilyn Dolan, speaking on behalf of the California Leafy Greens Association, shared information about the rigorous programs, which are designed to ensure the safety of cantaloupes and leafy greens to prevent foodborne illness.
  • Dr. Constance Geiger reviewed a recent clinical study showing that foods made with corn oil resulted in lower LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol than dishes prepared with extra-virgin olive oil.

Monday-night dinner presentations included a lineup of products and trends by Maria Emmer-Aanes, VP of marketing and communications at salad dressing and dip maker Lighthouse Foods; ideas on how to use storytelling to elevate wellness messaging to shoppers, by Monica Amburn, senior director of health and wellness at Vestcom; and a review of the Wonderful Brands portfolio -- including pomegranates and pistachios -- by Maggie Moon, the company’s senior nutrition communication manager.

Tuesday’s breakfast presenters were pork producer Charlotte Rommereim, outlining the latest nutritional research and new meat case nomenclature from the National Pork Board, and Lisa Bloomer, business leadership director at MOM Brands, with a lineup of the company’s hot cereals, including its new flax-spiked instant steel-cut oatmeal.

See more of my RD Symposium reports on Twitter @jimdudlicek and @pgrocer


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