There are many paths we pave on the road to better health. One of our programs may change the way you look at your local supermarket. For the past ﬁve years Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN, LDN, has been working with Oldways to coordinate our annual Supermarket Dietitian Symposium, an event that brings together some of the country’s leading retail dietitians and food company sponsors to discuss solutions and strategies to help shoppers make the best decisions in grocery store aisles. Often the important work dietitians do in supermarkets happens behind the scenes. Today we shine the spotlight on what Barb and her colleagues do to improve public health across the country. She is a former supermarket dietitian, has run a successful nutrition private practice for over a decade, and is regarded as a leader in the ﬁeld of nutrition. We recently sat down with Barb to talk about the role of dietitians in helping people make better choices when they shop for food.
OLDWAYS: For those who may not be familiar with supermarket dietitians, what is this position/job all about?
BARBARA: Registered Dietitians Nutritionists (RDNs) typically can be found working in a variety of diﬀerent healthcare and public health settings, such as outpatient clinics, public health agencies, school nutrition programs, and in private practice. As healthcare evolves and people have less time to visit the doctor’s oﬃce, RDNs can now be found oﬀering services in the local supermarket. Although it’s hard to pin point exactly which supermarket hired the ﬁrst dietitian, it’s safe to say the impetus behind retail supermarkets hiring dietitians is part of a unique business strategy – hiring nutrition experts to provide advice on choosing the right food choices is a smart way to gain a competitive advantage.
OLDWAYS: How many retailers in America today employ dietitians?
BARBARA: The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) estimates that 80% of all supermarket operators in the U.S. employ a Registered Dietitian in either a corporate or in-store position. It’s more common to ﬁnd dietitians working in regional and independent supermarket chains, although some of the larger chain operators such as Kroger, Ahold (Stop & Shop, Martins) and Delhaize (Hannaford) employ dietitians as well. These chains have stores operating under diﬀerent banner names across the country. For example, Kroger in Arizona operates under the banner “Fry’s” while Kroger in Colorado runs under the banner “King Soopers.”
OLDWAYS: What kinds of services do supermarket dietitians oﬀer?
BARBARA: RDNs oﬀer a variety of diﬀerent services depending on the supermarket. Some of the most common nutrition services found in supermarkets include: healthy food sampling and culinary demonstrations; store tours; group classes; community health events; child-focused nutrition education programs; and in-store nutrition counseling.
OLDWAYS: Is there a fee involved?
BARBARA: Most supermarkets don’t charge a fee for nutrition services oﬀered in the supermarket. However, nutrition counseling oﬀered in supermarkets typically has a fee that is similar to visiting a doctor’s oﬃce – a copayment is usually charged on site and health insurance is billed for the nutrition counseling visit. Some RDN-led programs for weight loss that charge a fee will reward people who attend every session with a store gift card.
OLDWAYS: How can shoppers ﬁnd out if there is a dietitian working in their local store?
BARBARA: The best way to ﬁnd out if your supermarket has a dietitian available to answer nutrition questions or for in-store services is to visit their website and search under “nutrition.” Sometimes these services are placed under Pharmacy. You can also ask a store director when you visit your local store.
OLDWAYS: What can individual shoppers do to help bring more dietitians to supermarkets?
BARBARA: Greater awareness and demand for RDN services available in supermarkets is the best way shoppers can inﬂuence retailers to employ dietitian nutritionists. It’s important to make the distinction here – RDNs have unique training and credentials that qualify them to dispense advice on food and nutrition. Don’t be fooled by a “health coach” or a “nutritionist” – unless they have the RDN credential, it’s likely that they’ve not completed educational requirements to oﬀer health advice. In many states, licensure is also required for dietitian nutritionists – the initials vary greatly, so just ask about credentials and qualiﬁcations.
OLDWAYS: What changes do you think are ahead for this important group of inﬂuencers?
BARBARA: Healthcare is changing rapidly to meet the demands of time-starved consumers and sky-rocking healthcare costs. It’s a smart decision for supermarkets to hire RDNs to oﬀer advice on how to shop for chronic disease prevention and management. In-store services, including on-site reimbursable nutrition counseling in supermarkets will likely increase in the next decade as supermarkets ﬁnd ways to oﬀer this service competitively and eﬃciently as compared to healthcare clinics and hospitals.