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Q&A: How the grocery store is evolving to meet consumer health needs

Whether they go there for a flu shot or to get shopping guidance from a registered dietitian nutritionist, research indicates that shoppers are increasingly turning to the grocery store for whole-health support.

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Whether they go there for a flu shot or to get shopping guidance from a registered dietitian nutritionist, research indicates that shoppers are increasingly turning to the grocery store for whole-health support. According to the US Grocery Shopper Trends 2023 report, from FMI – The Food Industry Association, half of today’s shoppers trust the grocery store and food retailers’ registered dietitians to support their personal goals to stay healthy. 

Consumers are also increasingly widening their view of health and prioritizing a focus on healthy eating, according to FMI’s Power of Health and Well-being 2023 report. Nearly a third of shoppers indicate they put significant time and effort into shopping for nutritious food – up 2% from last year – and 41% of shoppers indicate that the availability of nutrition and health components are among the most important attributes in the store they shop most often.

Krystal Register

In this exclusive interview, Krystal Register, FMI’s senior director of health and well-being, discusses how the grocery store’s entire ecosystem – from supplier and manufacturers to service providers and community agencies – are supporting the grocery store as a destination for health and well-being.

SB::  How have grocery stores transitioned into becoming health hubs for consumers? 

Register: The grocery store has evolved to meet consumer needs and wants in step with a growing desire to stay healthy and well.  The food retail setting provides a unique opportunity for registered dietitian nutritionists and retail pharmacists to address gaps in health care, improve public health and meet consumer demands for nutrition, health and well-being services. 

Grocery stores are becoming more important as destinations for health and well-being by advancing programs that connect food and nutrition to health, expanding product lines and innovating to provide choice (everything from items with reduced or no added sugar to fresh department grab-and-go options (and) raising awareness about the health and social benefits of family meals

SB: What role have retailers played in that?

Register: Retailers have always played a role in making a difference in the communities they serve with partnerships and programs that support everything from food banks to local schools and hospitals, helping to build healthier, more connected neighborhoods.  In addition to community initiatives, grocery stores are leveraging the expertise of both pharmacists and registered dietitians to spotlight the role that both food and health-related services can play in preventing disease and improving health. 

If we look first at the expansion of retail pharmacy services in just the past few years, we see that consumers can now walk through the front door of their local grocery store for everything from annual vaccinations (flu, COVID, RSV, etc.) to self-monitoring devices (home blood pressure cuffs, blood glucose monitors, etc.) to hearing aids and over-the-counter home remedies.   

SB: How do RDNs (registered dietitian nutritionists) fit into this role?

The grocery store provides a natural touchpoint for innovative, nutrition-focused programming and the delivery of evidence-based health information by registered dietitian nutritionists.  The grocery store allows RDNs to meet consumers where they are on a regular basis to positively impact food purchasing decisions both online and in-store that affect shopping, cooking and eating habits. 

Registered dietitian nutritionists work across the food industry sharing evidence-based messaging to empower consumers to include nutritious food and beverage options as they build meals and snacks, in alignment with the Dietary Guidelines to ultimately enjoy family meals and an overall healthy pattern of eating.  

RDNs provide content for blog posts and direct email campaigns for loyalty customers interested in health topics. Frequently, RDNs affiliated with grocery stores, commodity groups and those with product affiliations will provide science-based nutrition and health information in the media, to include television, radio, print and social media channels. 

In addition to providing label reading tips, recipe ideas and lifestyle guidance, RDNs in the food industry are also providing one-on-one nutrition counseling, as well as medical nutrition therapy, directly to consumers both in-person and virtually.  The positive health outcomes of MNT have been repeatedly studied and documented and prove again that the grocery store is an accessible destination for health and well-being.  

Many retailers and product suppliers have links to informative videos on their websites for easy access to quick tips and timely suggestions. RDNs provide topic- and disease-specific classes both in-store and virtually with great connection to a wide consumer base. Retailers also use in-store signage, shelf tags and brand specific labeling to help consumers identify choices relevant to their own personal needs and health goals to include no added sugar, low added sugar, etc.  

SB: Are more grocers employing in-house dietitians? What impact are they having? 

Registered dietitians are working across the entire industry with not only our retail grocers but also with our product suppliers and manufacturers, and they have been for many years.  We recently conducted a survey to better capture the breadth and scope of food industry dietitians and will share those numbers as insights and opportunities in our 2024 Food Industry Contributions to Health and Well-being report, which will released in early February. 

From our 2021 Retailer Contributions to Health & Well-being report, we gathered that 81% of food retailers who responded to the survey employ dietitians at the corporate level, regionally and in-store or virtually. Retailers are making extensive use of registered dietitians with efforts that include nutrition counseling sessions, weight and diabetes management classes, and other informative interactions.  

Recently, we have seen many retail RDNs expand their reach by taking on leadership roles within their organizations in other areas to include e-commerce, labeling, regulatory, digital marketing, merchandising, private brands, and employee wellness.  Product suppliers also have a wide and varied range of strategically employed RDNs. Again, more to come on that in our February 2024 report.  

Notably, FMI food retail partners want to be part of the solution to provide equitable access to professional nutrition services, such as medical nutrition therapy and food-as-medicine initiatives, recognizing the value in connecting personalized nutrition services to other incentives and programs for maximum benefit, gradual behavior change and improved health outcomes.  

SB: How do you convey the nutrition/health aspect of grocery stores to the shoppers?

RegisterFMI continues to showcase how food retail settings provide a unique opportunity for registered dietitian nutritionists and pharmacists to address gaps in health care equity, improve public health and meet consumer demands for health and well-being services. FMI continues to highlight member efforts to reach consumers with evidence-based messaging and nutrition services around encouraging overall health and well-being, disease management and treatment, improving nutrition security, and promoting food safety. We share real life examples with key stakeholders through our Food as Medicine Spotlight Video Series.

SB: How is FMI’s support of the White House initiative to improve health and food security supporting retailers’ goals and meeting consumer needs?

Register: One of the best examples of how we tell this story ties directly to our support of the historic 2022 White House Conference and resulting National Strategy to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities. The conference set the stage to showcase and leverage food industry programs and initiatives that directly improve hunger, nutrition and health in our country.

FMI’s collective food industry commitments were announced in September 2022 as part of the historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. FMI members commit to donating 2 billion meals to food banks and other organizations and reaching 100 million consumers with evidence-based nutrition messaging.  

FMI plans to share an impact report with our 2023 year-end commitment metrics to highlight and amplify member efforts to improve hunger, nutrition and health.   

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