Registered dietitians have been sitting in supermarket corporate offices for years, creating nutrition programs and educational materials that promote wellness among their customers, coworkers and communities.

While that primary role has not changed, over the past 5 years there’s been a change in where it is happening: We’ve seen a surge in the number of front-of-the-house supermarket dietitians who are visible to customers and available to improve people’s diets and health. These in-store experts provide cooking demonstrations, conduct supermarket tours and answer questions about products. Some even provide one-on-one counseling based on customers’ individual goals (such as weight loss) or specific health concerns (like diabetes or high blood pressure).

“Having a registered dietitian in a supermarket allows customers to get nutrition information in real time right where they buy their food,” says Samantha Joy Mark, RD, CDN, retail registered dietitian for ShopRite, a supermarket chain operating mostly in the northeastern United States. “When I educate people, I am able to take them to specific foods that fit their lifestyle.”

Among her duties for ShopRite, Mark offers the following:

Supermarket tours. Customers can tour the aisles and get immediate assistance in choosing foods that best suit their needs.

Children’s events. Monthly events focus on kid-friendly recipes and meal ideas. Supermarket dietitians also work with local schools and children’s groups (like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts) to educate students on healthier choices.

Health and wellness classes. Nutrition topics are presented in a classroom-type setting.

Other supermarkets employ regional dietitians (as opposed to in-store dietitians) who go to community events; provide meal planning; and do media segments on television and radio, through social media and via articles on the Web.

“What I really like about this position is that no day is the same as the one before,” says Melissa Hehmann, RD, CDE, a healthy-living advisor for Meijer, a supermarket chain in the Midwest. “Some days I may have to prepare for a television segment, which actually may take a couple of days: to create an outline, make a shopping list, do the actual shopping, prep food for the segment, travel to the location and then film the segment.” But the result is educating a broader audience. “We reach thousands of customers this way,” she notes. “So it is well worth our time.”

Very often, the office of an on-site supermarket dietitian is in the high-traffic area at the front of the store, near the pharmacy or the customer service desk. Some supermarket dietitians are on duty one or two evenings per week, and some may work weekends. Because the hours vary, it is best to ask local supermarkets for specifics.

Clients whose favorite stores do not have an in-store dietitian may still connect with these professionals during community events. Event planners can ask management if the supermarket’s dietitian is available to give a presentation.

Working With a Supermarket Dietitian

Fitness professionals and supermarket dietitians have many opportunities to team up and improve client health. Here are eight ways to make that happen:

  1. Educate clients about reading labels. One of the biggest
    sources of confusion is nutrition information panels— including serving sizes, ingredient lists and nutrient claims. Your clients can become more knowledgeable about food labels through in-store education, handouts and website resources.
  2. Provide credible nutrition information. There is so much misinformation swirling around, especially about supplements and energy-boosting foods for athletes. In-house dietitians can sit one-on-one with your clients, explain the latest research and help them determine the healthiest food choices.
  3. Discuss farm-to-table. A lot of people are curious about how food is sourced, especially local food. Supermarket dietitians are aware of local food trends and can help your fitness clients understand the flow of food from farm to fork.
  4. Teach customers how to cook. Although people may understand what they should eat, they are not always savvy in the kitchen. Being able to prepare simple meals using wholesome ingredients helps customers control the food they take in. A supermarket’s dietitian could provide a schedule of the store’s upcoming cooking demonstrations—or even give a free demonstration just to your clients.
  5. Increase fruit and vegetable intake. Fruits and vegetables provide a wide variety of important nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (plant chemicals that help prevent or fight disease). Most people do not consume the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. Supermarket dietitians can educate your clients on how to cook fruits and vegetables, encourage them to try new fruits and vegetables, and even provide simple recipes for your clients to try at home.
  6. Assist with food allergies. People who are newly diagnosed with food allergies may find the supermarket a daunting place. Supermarket dietitians can prepare allergen product lists to help consumers easily determine which foods are safe. These professionals can also teach your clients how to recognize foods that contain a specific allergen and how to identify ingredients that contain the allergen.
  7. Promote wellness programs. Many supermarket dietitians have created wellness programs for the store’s employees and for other local companies. These programs may include video series, handouts, recipes, articles and tips, which may be available to you and your clientele.
  8. Teach kids about nutrition. Good nutrition begins at a young age. Clients often need more facts on how to feed their kids. Many supermarket dietitians provide child-friendly shopping tips, recipes and resources that your clients will appreciate.
How Dietitians Address Customer Concerns

Customers inquire about a wide variety of topics that dietitians are specifically qualified to answer. Some of these topics are the in-store location of specific products, the health benefits of unusual ingredients or trendy foods, GMOs, food sourcing (e.g., local or organic), food allergies or avoidances, and fad diets.

Supermarket dietitians who receive numerous inquiries about a topic will likely do additional research to ensure that their knowledge is up to date. Melissa Hehmann, RD, CDE, a healthy-living advisor for the Meijer supermarket chain, describes a recent experience: “We went to Earthbound Farm and Taylor Farms in California. We saw the beautiful spring mix and spinach fields, learned more about organic farming, and then saw how the produce gets from the field into packages. Trips like this help us answer consumer questions from a real perspective.”

Gluten is currently a big concern, especially for customers who are newly diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. People may choose to cut out gluten for other reasons as well, including weight loss. An in-store dietitian can help educate customers about a gluten-free diet and discuss whether it is right for them. Offering a gluten-free cooking demonstration or product tasting is another possibility.

Advice for Athletes

Athletes who are training for an event and people who are simply quite active typically burn a lot of calories. Samantha Joy Mark, RD, CDN, retail registered dietitian for ShopRite, shares her favorite food-shopping tips for more active individuals:

  • Stay well hydrated. Keep extra bottles of water on hand. If clients want to add some “spark” to their water, suggest infused water. Infuser bottles can be an easy way to add natural flavor from fruits and vegetables.
  • Do not skip meals. If time is an issue, plan ahead. Many supermarkets offer quick, grab-and-go options that can help nourish athletes on the run. A piece of local fruit is a perfect preworkout snack for a quick energy boost.
  • Keep meals balanced. Meals should include vegetables, whole grains and high-quality proteins. Fresh fruit and low-fat dairy should also be included as snacks and at mealtime.
  • Seek guidance on supplements. Many active people are interested in supplements to help improve performance. Your clients may have heard from friends or read online about the perceived benefits of specific supplements. Supermarket dietitians can offer information about current research and the potential side effects of supplements, so customers can choose safe products.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN

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