Skip to main content

Winning with Wellness


Research on 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 in advance of the FMI Connect conference held in Chicago that same week.

PG’s RD Research

Leading the agenda on Monday afternoon, PG presented the results of its latest survey on retail dietitians and how they’re helping grocers leverage a health-and-wellness message. This exclusive proprietary research, gathered last spring, revealed, among other details:

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

Crunching the Numbers

Slightly more than half of grocers responding to PG’s survey said they have the position of retail dietitian (RD) at their respective companies. The number of RDs varied widely among respondents, with the greatest number (40 percent) staffing just one person holding that title, and the next-greatest number (35 percent) employing between four and 10 RDs.

Most RDs (47 percent) spend the bulk of their time in their company’s stores, with about 40 percent operating out of corporate headquarters. About 12 percent spend their time out and about, attending community events and conferences, visiting hospitals, undergoing training, and working with local media (television and radio).

Many RDs tell PG they want to play a greater role in category management for their grocers. Nearly 63 percent of survey respondents said their RDs work with category managers and merchandisers, but there’s quite a swing in the extent of their involvement. The greatest number collaborate on targeted promotions and shelf tag programs, and about three-quarters work on advertising and signage. Nearly 60 percent say they’re involved in new product decisions, while fewer than a third take part in creating planograms. Other ways RDs work with merchandisers: coordinating product demonstrations; helping to promote items in the media, on blogs and during store tours; making new product suggestions; fielding customer requests; and promoting new products and seasonal sets.

More than two-thirds of grocers say their RD’s main purpose is communication and education, with nearly all reporting that their key role is responding to shoppers’ questions. Yet fewer than two-thirds are actually managing retailer health-and-wellness programs or working with other departments on purchasing.

It’s clear that retailers that employ RDs are more engaged with shoppers on wellness issues than those without the position, in all methods of engagement ranging from social media to sampling events. As such, retailers with RDs spend much more face time with shoppers, including group health/nutrition classes, wellness consultations, individual or group counseling, and culinary education.

RD Challenges

Dietitians responding to the survey noted they face challenges to their job from consumers as well as management. Among their main concerns: getting consistent numbers of program participants; making the connection between food engagement and nutrition (“Some people are not as open to health and wellness, and do not welcome change,” one respondent remarked); and finding enough time to help all who want it.

Among challenges in dealing with management: proving the ROI of dietitians and health-and-wellness programs, a gap in understanding between RDs and upper management, personnel and resources being spread too thin among store locations, dietitians not having enough say in related programs, and lack of associate support in the wellness mission.

Most retailers with RDs measure their effectiveness through social media impressions, coupon redemptions, inventory measures, sales tracking and customer feedback.

Looking ahead, only about 7 percent of retailers surveyed that don’t already have an RD plan to add one in the coming year, while more than 52 percent say they have no such plans. But more than 40 percent are undecided, so opportunities exist for growth among RDs to help foster retailers’ wellness missions.

Extensive Speaker Lineup

The symposium agenda 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 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 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.” He suggested that with the right social media savvy, retail nutritionists could become the next celebrity chefs. By leveraging their RDs’ credibility and creating a context that reflects the values and needs of consumers, grocers can “tell a good brand story [that] people will follow,” noted Nix.

Food plus health and wellness are among the top five passions shared on social media networks, Nix observed. “Consumers quickly become more active participants in food culture. They are breaking bread virtually by sharing their food experiences, uploading photos and posting stories,” he said.

But while the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has been heavily tapping into this trend, with nearly 30 billion media impressions through more than 18,000 articles and interviews, supermarkets have been cautious about playing the social media game. “There is a truck-sized opening for supermarkets that know how to engage with people on social media,” Nix said. Supermarkets are the gateway to most people’s food, so “why not become known as the credible voice of reason on all matters related to food and eating well?”

Samantha Cassetty, nutrition director for Luvo, laid out her company’s goal to become “the Starbucks of healthy food.” Luvo’s range of frozen entrées and breakfast items are available at select grocers across the country and on Delta Airlines; the company completed a successful pilot menu program at Cleveland Clinic and is currently 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 (MilkPEP) “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. Crucial to stopping channel leakage and retaining people who are eating outside the home in increasing numbers: Offer people solutions that save time and inspire confidence, and show how grocery solutions beat restaurants on price and convenience.

Nestlé Health Science’s Karen Lundgren demonstrated how the 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, who trust health professionals as a source of nutrition information, offering RDs an opportunity to serve them better.

Brian Levy, president of Pulse Health & Wellness, presented data suggesting opportunities for RDs working in supermarkets 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 want to do so.

Marilyn Dolan, speaking on behalf of the California Leafy Greens Association, shared information about the rigorous programs designed to ensure the safety of cantaloupes and leafy greens to prevent foodborne illness.

Dr. Constance Geiger reviewed a recent clinical study showing foods made with corn oil resulted in lower LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol than dishes prepared with extra-virgin olive oil.

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.

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.

The event was sponsored by Luvo, Vestcom, Boost, California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, MilkPEP, LGMA, Domino Sugar, Lighthouse Foods, NuVal, Wonderful Brands, Mazola, MOM Brands, the National Pork Board, Almased, Anchor Bay, Enjoy Life Foods, Good2Grow, Witchology, LaCroix, Connect & Coach, Physicians for Better Health, Silver Palate, Calbee, ShopWell, InBalance, Limoniera, Nature’s Path, and Produce for Kids.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds