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Supermarket Dietitians Need Bigger Wellness Role

One thing is for sure — our shoppers are getting fatter, they have more diseases and are pleading for more information and help in order to manage and reverse their situations. There is no better retail environment than our supermarkets to step in and solve this problem — supermarkets like Hy-Vee have already proven that with dietitians in every store and now even a “healthy” checkout lane.

For almost two decades I have heard loud and clear from supermarket operators that they yearn to be the health and wellness center for their communities; but very few have achieved that objective. More desire and talk than action has occurred.

Oldway's Changing the American Palate and the FMI's Health & Wellness Conference recently brought supermarket dietitians together to discuss the strategies and programs needed to put even more solutions in more retail places. And it is apparent to me that until we involve these health and wellness professionals in more aspects of our stores — we will never achieve that objective.

Supermarket dietitians need to be involved in much more than just the printing of brochures, writing of short pieces that appear on websites or giving store tours on how to read labels. They are on the front lines — hearing what shoppers say and dealing with their food choice frustrations on a daily basis. What I learned at both conferences is that supermarkets are not really taking advantage of these insights; and we must before it is too late — for our shoppers and for our stores' future.

A good first step is to break down the silos if we are truly going to challenge the lead that drug retailers, CVS and Walgreens in particular, currently claim. As these retailers are adding more foods to their stores, they are satisfying our shoppers health and wellness needs better than we can.

Dietitians must interact with each department — and there must be a two-way dialogue and learning. The meat manager, pizza maker, pharmacist and wine buyer need to go on an in-store tour with the dietitian and have active discussions revolving around what shoppers are asking.

These days, it appears that many retailers are taking the path of least resistance when it comes to health and wellness — feeling that implementing programs like NuVal or Guiding Stars solves the issue and that nothing more needs to be done. These programs, and other similar ones, are just one type of tool that our shoppers need; they are not the total solution.

In discussions with the dietitians at these two conferences I heard more excitement and passion about their supermarkets' opportunities than I have at most other supermarket conventions from executives and merchandisers for many years. But I also heard about their frustrations in being included in a broader context in their organizations. If we are truly committed to being the center of health and wellness, than we must make stronger commitments to hear what our dietitians have to say.