March was National Nutrition Month, a perfect time for Oldways to hold the Fifth Annual Supermarket Dietitian Symposium at the Vinoy Renaissance in St. Petersburg, Florida.  From March 22-24, fifty dietitians who are currently working in supermarkets or who have retail experience joined forces with representatives from sponsoring food companies and commodity boards to tackle some of the country’s major public health issues and explore actionable solutions that can influence shoppers to be more conscious of their plates by promoting healthy and sustainable food choices. In addition to corporate and in-store dietitians and health and wellness advisors from many of America’s top retailers, this year’s symposium included seven dietitians representing Canada, one dietitian from Waitrose in the UK, and one from Haifa, Israel, who is planning to implement a supermarket program in her country.

Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN, LDN, Oldways partner in coordinating the symposium, reminded the group that six in ten consumers shop at least twice a week for groceries, and 70% of all health care costs are the direct result of behavior, giving supermarkets a unique opportunity to help shoppers make healthy choices.

“Since our first symposium in Napa, California, five years ago, it’s exciting to see that supermarket dietitians are collaborating to make a difference in consumer health (public health) across the country,” said Ruhs. “These dietitians can look beyond the fear of competition and slim margins and are invested in creating value for their retailers by focusing on what they do best — providing expert nutrition advice to shoppers focused on improving their health. Shoppers are seeking out the help of dietitians at their local grocery stores today and this the most innovative solution addressing the crisis in US healthcare.”

In addition, over the past few years, Ruhs says she has witnessed the transformation of dietitians who were brand new to retail grow into leaders who have developed successful programs that make a difference in consumer health. From in-store counseling, culinary education, shopping tours, garden projects and dietitian-led social media platforms, supermarket dietitians are setting the pace for the future of dietetics!

The career path in dietetics is expanding with the important role that supermarket dietitians are carving out for themselves in retail. As consumers continue to be invested in their own health, the food industry will continue to evolve to meet this demand. Working hand-in-hand with supermarket dietitians who are on the front lines helping shoppers, the food industry and retail supermarkets will continue to maximize their role and value in the grocery business.

“Our sponsors find great value in this event because they’re invested in the quality and track record of our program,” Ruhs continued. “We’re focused on one goal — helping supermarket dietitians do their jobs better. We provide an opportunity to connect dietitians with each other as well as a unique chance for food industry sponsors to send their dietitian and/or marketing representatives. We’re all learning and creating together. It is a magical event that I am extremely proud of.”

Here are some highlights from the symposium progam:

  • Kate Geagan, MS, RDN, America’s Green Nutritionist, spoke on how the issue of sustainability is shaping the shopping cart.  She began her presentation with a quote from Oxfam’s Tim Gore: “The main way that most people will experience climate change is through the food they eat, the price they have to pay for it, and the availability and choice that they have.”  She pointed out that today’s consumers are looking for supply chain traceability, clear labels, and seek grocery store chains as partners in health.
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  • Paddy Spence, CEO of Zevia, explained to the group that consumers want to be heard and brands and retailers need to respond by listening to shoppers, educating them, and nurturing different groups within the shopper base.
  • Anne Roland Lee, EdD, RD, LD from Dr. Schar spoke about the evolving uses of the gluten-free diet beyond Celiac Disease (today up to 43 million people have an interest in GF foods) and shared ideas for store impact on quality of life.
  • Carolyn Kallio, RD from Unilever discussed beverage trends at meal time and showed how tea can play an important role in water consumption.
  • Monica Amburn, RD, LDN from Vestcom demystified the new menu calorie labeling requirements for supermarkets.
  • Dr. Jim Painter, PhD, RD focused on the failed theories of heart disease and raised questions about the origin of the current guidelines recommending fewer than 300 milligrams a day of dietary cholesterol.  
  • Joan Williams, RDN, LDN, formerly with Albertsons, spoke about reaching the Hispanic shopper.
  • Diana K. Rice, RD, presented on The Kids Cook Monday Campaign and showed how supermarket dietitians can benefit from cooking with kids.
  • Courtney Cagle from the Public Health Institute shared insights on California’s Healthy Retail Produce Program.

The symposium also featured Supermarket Dietitian Snapshots, which gave nine attendees an opportunity to showcase specific promotions and programs they have implemented for their retailers.  New this year, the event included a mini-trade show on the last afternoon, where dietitians sampled vendor products and recipes, discovered new ideas for demos, sampling, and displays, addressed any unanswered questions, and explored potential partnerships for in-store promotions and community events.  

Click here for more information and details on some of this year’s symposium presentations.

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