CHAINS USE DIETITIANS FOR IN-STORE PROMOTION

This month, seven supermarket chains across the country are letting dietitians loose in their grocery aisles to promote healthier eating, in a program called the Eating Smarter Cart Makeover.The chains -- Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine; Kings Super Markets, West Caldwell, N.J.; Bi-Lo, Greenville, S.C.; Red Food Stores, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Jewel Food Stores, Melrose Park, Ill.; Baker's Supermarkets,

This month, seven supermarket chains across the country are letting dietitians loose in their grocery aisles to promote healthier eating, in a program called the Eating Smarter Cart Makeover.

The chains -- Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine; Kings Super Markets, West Caldwell, N.J.; Bi-Lo, Greenville, S.C.; Red Food Stores, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Jewel Food Stores, Melrose Park, Ill.; Baker's Supermarkets, Omaha, Neb., and the Seattle division of Albertson's, Boise, Idaho -- will post registered dietitians in stores to teach consumers how to choose healthier items as they shop.

The program is sponsored by ConAgra Frozen Foods, Omaha, Neb., with the chains are tailoring the program to their needs and styles. It was timed to overlap the ConAgra's latest promotion for its Healthy Choice lines.

Some chains, such as Kings, are conducting the cart makeovers as a one-day promotion, while others are stretching it to a weeklong or two-week event. But in all cases, ConAgra is supplying the dietitians. ConAgra plans on broadening the event to a national program next year, especially if the response from both retailers and consumers to this pilot promotion is positive, said a ConAgra representative. "We're trying to learn the idiosyncrasies of the different parts of the country," said Pat Quarles, manager of public relations for ConAgra. She said the dietitians will be available to help shoppers identify food choices that are nutritionally sound, without sacrificing taste. They will teach consumers how to read the new food labels. They will also hand out coupons.

"We're trying to make it flexible for the retailers. For instance, Jewel and Hannaford are doing it during the first two weeks of October," she said.

Retailers in the pilot said they

saw it as a chance to reach out to consumers.

"We're delighted to be participating," said Anne-Marie Davee, manager of consumer affairs at Hannaford Bros. "ConAgra is sponsoring registered dietitians in 25 of our Northeast stores."

Davee said the Cart Makeover program fits in perfectly with a bigger event Hannaford is conducting, with the theme, "We're at the Heart of your Healthy Lifestyle." That month-long October promotion combines the nutrition-based resources of the chain's grocery and pharmacy departments.

Indeed, an entire flier this month will be devoted to the Food Guide Pyramid and all products advertised will be a part of the pyramid, she said. "So the makeover is one piece that fits in with the overall plan for the month."

Joyce Smart, manager of public affairs for Bi-Lo, told SN that "ConAgra has made a significant gesture by having a registered dietitian in almost all of our 200 stores."

During the two-week program, the dietitians will be in each store for four to six hours. "We're trying to help our customers by answering nutrition questions they may have like 'How much sodium? calories? fat?' " said Smart.

One hundred seventy-five Jewel Food Stores will be participating in the pilot. Dietitians will display a "makeover" grocery cart and share advice for incorporating foods rich in flavor and low in sodium and cholesterol into a balanced diet, explained Dianne Maffia, Jewel's director of public relations.

"With the introduction of the new food labels, shoppers are becoming more aware of the nutritional content of their foods," said Maffia.

"The Eating Smarter Makeover program is a fun way to show shoppers how to take that label information one step further and apply it to meal planning," she added.

"It's a consumer education program; a community outreach program," said Cheryl Good, manager of community relations and consumer affairs for Kings Super Markets. "And the cart won't consist of all Healthy Choice brands; there will be a balance of choices."

Quarles said retailers have options as to how they can promote the program. Bi-Lo has put posters in its stores' windows, while Baker's and Kings have run announcements in their consumer newsletters.

"And Albertson's," she said, "has a very extensive public relations program."

Quarles said the program will be repeated in the spring. So far, Kroger Co.'s Atlanta division and Farm Fresh, Norfolk, Va., have signed up to participate, she said.