Should grocers offer dietitians' services to shoppers?

Consumers are growing increasingly interested in clean-label eating, and grocers are responding by providing a wider array of healthy offerings. Some supermarket chains have gone a step further by bringing dietitians into stores to give customers tailored nutritional advice.

ShopRite has brought over 130 dietitians into stores to provide guidance on how consumers can reach their wellness goals, while dietitians at Coborn’s work carefully with in-store pharmacists to create healthy eating plans for shoppers.

Eliminate customer confusion

Although many consumers have been visiting groceries their entire lives, that doesn’t mean they understand what’s healthy and what isn’t -- many are so accustomed to buying the same things over and over again that it can benefit them to have an expert guide them while shopping, says dietitian Allison Tepper, MS, RD, LDN.

“Having an on-site dietitian is a great way to support the public in reaching their health goals,” Tepper says. “Having an expert in the field to help guide customers takes out the guess work and allows people to take nutrition recommendations and apply them to real life through food purchasing. As a dietitian, I often offer grocery store tours to help clients navigate food labels, health claims and more.”

This can be especially helpful for consumers who are diagnosed with a condition that has deep ties to what they eat, such as diabetes or Celiac disease. Beginning the healthy eating journey at the first point of contact is essential for them to fill their carts with the most beneficial foods.

“Nutrition starts at the supermarket for the majority of us,” says dietitian Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN. “A registered dietitian on-site provides direct access to a nutrition expert who is excited to help customers shop and live more healthfully -- a unique opportunity many would never otherwise have.”

Dietitians’ services can be wide-ranging

In some cases, grocers will allow shoppers to set up one-on-one appointments with dietitians, while in other situations, the grocer will have the dietitian stationed near the pharmacy for on-call advice. However, the services these professionals provide can be wide-ranging.

Dietitians and nutritionists can answer questions about new food products, provide cooking demonstrations, answer food allergy questions, help shoppers examine labeling and discuss how certain foods fit with chronic medical conditions, says dietitian Sarah Krieger, MPH, RDN. “Consumers are surprised at 'foods new to them,' since they buy the same things every week,” Krieger says. “It's inspiring as a registered dietitian to help guide shoppers with new flavors of foods to them, which can inspire them to eat a wider variety of nutritious foods.”

Because many shoppers will say they don’t have time to cook healthy meals, dietary professionals can advise them on manageable ways to prepare meals that will allow them to manage their stress while taking in proper nutrition, Tepper says. “This includes utilizing appliances such as slow cookers, and finding quick and easy meals that the whole family will enjoy.”

Dietitians can help boost shoppers’ bills

Not only does having professionals on staff help shoppers eat more healthily, but it can also introduce customers to purchasing items they wouldn’t have bought in the past.

“I do healthy cooking lessons for Loblaws and also take private clients through the grocery and help them pick things up that will be good for their diets,” said plant-based chef and nutritionist Amy Longard. “If I recommend a product, it disappears from the shelves. Seeing me demonstrate the product will help engage consumers and teach them how to use it.”

For instance, she says, a lot of shoppers wouldn’t know what to do with chia seeds, so just seeing someone use them in a recipe helps them understand what they can do with the ingredient.

No matter what reason consumers have for consulting with in-store dietitians, it’s expected that the professionals will help ease their shopping experiences, Longard says. “Those who lack confidence about food and nutrition are terrified to shop, and that’s more common than you think. Many people in the middle generation grew up with processed food and now they have to transition to fresh food and they are overwhelmed. There are a lot of sociological, psychological and environmental factors that go into it.”
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