Over the past ten years, the number of dietitians employed by supermarket retailers has grown tremendously. The midwestern-based chain, Hy-Vee, now employs a registered dietitian in almost every one of its 230-plus stores. What better place for consumers to seek dietary guidance than where they shop? The Food Marketing Institute’s Shopping for Health survey, taken by 1,500 retailers, showed that 85 percent employ dietitians at the corporate level, and about 50 percent employ dietitians regionally.
The FMI survey also reports that nearly 50 percent of shoppers are confused by information surrounding nutrition and, if they had to choose an expert to help them live healthier, most would choose a dietitian over a personal chef or a personal trainer. A few reasons why grocery-goers may utilize the services of a registered dietitian are to seek guidance on shopping for specific diet-related health concerns, for help on how to read food labels and ingredient lists, or for ways to help them create healthy meals for their families.
Supermarket dietitians wear many hats and their role(s) differ store to store. They lead found-in-store tours that teach customers how to navigate the aisles and decipher front of packing claims and lead cooking demos. Many write retailers’ blogs/websites and post content to their social media pages. They are also increasingly seen as experts in the media and regularly appear on TV and radio segments related to healthy eating.
Customers and retailers benefit from employing dietitians. Betsy Ramirez, M.Ed., R.D, a former supermarket dietitian who is now a consultant to the industry, shares ways that retailers can benefit from employing dietitians on her website. These include gaining customer loyalty and being able to brand their store as a health and wellness destination, while helping to increase their bottom line.
Working with supermarket dietitians is one way that food marketers can engage health conscious consumers and work with this influential group of educators. But remember, they are nutrition professionals and health educator’s first, so it’s important to respect their professional integrity and offer to partner with them, not to employ them as a salesperson. Here are some tips for staying within those boundaries:
1. Get them what they need: Offer supermarket dietitians resources that that they can use in-store, during media segments or for online use. It is important that the resources you provide are not focused on one particular food or product, but that they offers tips on healthy eating in general and are creative! One way to do this would be to focus on a particular theme or time of year and offer relevant information to dietitians as a “toolkit.” For example, create a tip sheet on ways to eat healthy during a summer barbecue with healthy recipes featuring your food, and practical food safety information. Retail dietitians also like photos that can be enlarged for a display or handed out during a cooking demo. Reusable shopping bags are also a favorite! Remember it’s not one-size-fits all, so be sure to ask what they need.
2. It takes one to know one: When creating content to share with this group, utilize a nutrition professional to ensure that the materials are based on scientific information and recipes that have been tested and tasted. There is no quicker way to turn off a supermarket dietitian (or any dietitian!) than to provide them with unsubstantiated nutrition information.
3. Do your homework: Shop at the stores you are trying to reach, and visit their websites and social media pages to see the type of information they are sharing. Find out about some of the activities the retail dietitians are engaged in, and whether or not they work on the corporate or store level. This will save you a lot of time up front when planning your marketing budgets.
4. Make the connection: A great way to reach this influential group of educators is by connecting with them through social media. Many supermarket dietitians are active on Twitter and Facebook, and there is now a Supermarket Dietitian Pinterest board. This board serves as an excellent resource on what they are doing both in stores and in their community, and how they come up with some of their great ideas.
Stick to these guidelines, and you’re likely to build more valuable and transparent relationships with this growing group of health professionals.