With all the focus on health and wellness , it’s easy to see why some consumers shy away from packaged foods in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables.
But today’s Center Store  contains plenty of better-for-you items that can be part of a healthful diet. The challenge is in educating consumers about them.
“Unfortunately, as supermarket dietitians , we do have to bust the myth that consumers should only shop the perimeter,” said Caroline Passerrello, a registered dietitian and manager of dietitian initiatives at Giant Eagle , Pittsburgh.
While nutrition-scoring programs like NuVal  help, retailers are using other tactics to highlight better-for-you products.
Since store dietitians are such a trusted source for supermarket shoppers, a growing number of retailers are giving certain products the dietitian stamp of approval.
Giant Eagle employs 18 dietitians who cover 32 locations. Each month, they designate 10-15 products as “Dietitian Picks.” Current selections include Greek Zone Bars and LaCroix Sparkling Water.
Giant Eagle established nutrient criteria with its Nutrition Services and Quality Assurance departments for individual categories to ensure it is promoting products recommended for the general healthy adult population, said Passerrello.
Launched last year, the program was recently enhanced with the use of personalized shelf talkers featuring the name and photo of a Giant Eagle dietitian. The shelf talkers are five inches in diameter and have clips so that they can be affixed to shelving.
Handouts at dietitian kiosks at the store list the Dietitian Picks on one side, and a two-day meal plan incorporating the items on the reverse. The meal plan includes items from that week’s sale, Dietitian Picks items and recipes including those foods.
Products are chosen based on a monthly theme. The theme for July is “items to keep you eating well while having fun in the sun.”
Some stores that have space merchandise a select “Dietitian’s Pick” on an endcap display in the health, beauty and wellness department or in Center Store.
Dietitians reinforce their selections during themed store tours. For instance, tours focusing on the Mediterranean Diet include discussions about whole grain pastas, beans, olives and oils, in addition to produce and seafood.
United Chooses Favorites Via NuVal
United Supermarkets , Lubbock, Texas, is another chain that highlights products endorsed by dietitians. Shelf talkers read “Dietitian’s Top Pick,” and feature a photo of one of United’s registered dietitians.
Nutrition advisors pick their favorite items with the highest NuVal scores in each section. The majority of these picks are in Center Store. NuVal is a nutritional scoring system that summarizes a product’s nutritional information into a score of 1 – 100. The higher the score, the more nutritious the product is. The number is featured on shelf tags.
Sales data show at least a 10% lift on “Dietitian’s Top Pick” items, “so we know our guests are using the program,” said Robin Hawkins, a registered dietitian who is United’s director of health and wellness.
United dietitians have selected about 500 featured products. Dietitians evaluate and change the picks twice a year. Current selections include Blue Diamond Natural Almonds, Rao’s Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce, Organic Almond Butter, Smart Balance Heart Right Milk and Beanitos Black Bean Chips.
Hy-Vee , West Des Moines, Iowa, also has a “Dietitian’s Pick” program in place.
The program helps educate shoppers about the wide variety of health and wellness products, especially in Center Store, said April Graff, a registered dietitian at a Hy-Vee store in Mankato, Minn.
“There are many quality products in the Center Store, you just have to know what to look for,” Graff said.
Two of Graff’s favorite Center Store “Dietitian’s Pick” foods are walnuts and chia seeds.
In addition to dedicated “Dietitian’s Pick” signage, dietitians get the word out about their favorite items in other ways.
At Meijer , Grand Rapids, Mich., a team of dietitians provides numerous consumer publications, community presentations and local media spots showing shoppers how to create meals at home that include Center Store products. Examples include its “$10 Thursday” television segment and “Easy Meals Healthy Families” guidebook.
“The goal is to show shoppers that simple meal ideas can be created from products around the whole store, and that the end result will be delicious and nutritious,” said Shari Steinbach, Healthy Living manager at Meijer.
Read more: Dietitians Cite Important Consumer Data 
Since shoppers are looking for easy, affordable meals that are also healthy for their families, Meijer dietitians stress that many Center Store items can be included. Pastas, canned beans and vegetables, and sauces are examples.
“Our dietitians focus on the nutritional value of the whole meal, not just individual foods as we provide meal solution ideas and recipes,” she said.
Healthful ingredients from Center Store are often included in store demos, special holiday meal events, and on in-store recipe cards. Meijer also cross-merchandises healthful Center Store products on the perimeter, such as seasonings and sauces in the seafood department.
Additionally, it features a variety of informational videos and tips on the Meijer MealBox web page at www.meijermealbox.com/healthy-living , and utilizes Pinterest to showcase Healthy Living opportunities for its shoppers.
Sidebars: Picking and Choosing
LUBBOCK, Texas — When it comes to new products, dietitians have their favorites.
Robin Hawkins, United Supermarkets’ director of health and wellness, favors lower-calorie and reduced-sodium snacks such as Boom Chicka Pop popcorn.
She also sees strong consumer interest in healthier chip options made from ingredients like lentils, beans and sweet potatoes, such as Beanito chips.
Hawkins is happy to see that pasta companies are adding omega-3 and fiber to their pastas. Carba-nada and Dreamfields are popular brands, she said.
April Gaff, a registered dietitian at a Hy-Vee store in Mankato, Minn., recommends Minute-brand ready-to-serve rice and grain cups. The cups are packed with whole grains, and are an innovative convenience item, she said.
“They can be taken to work or school, and are perfect to add to salads or as side dishes,” said Gaff.
Living Well Lanes
LUBBOCK, Texas — Dietitian-approved shelf tags are one of a growing number of ways retailers highlight better-for-you Center Store products.
In addition to its “Dietitian Picks” program, United Supermarkets gives healthier food and beverages prime front-end placement with new “Healthy Checkout Lanes” in two test stores.
Read more: Dietitian Group Establishes Career Center 
The lanes carry Clif, Luna, LaraBar and Kind food bars, and other better-for-you snacks instead of candy bars.
The two test stores are United’s Market Street banner at 19th Street and Quaker Avenue in Lubbock, and its Market Street unit in McKinney.
|Suggested Categories||More from Supermarketnews|