SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bashas' Supermarkets, Chandler, Ariz., hosted a two-day summit meeting here for supermarkets' registered dietitians to share ideas about reaching consumers.
The meeting, the first of its kind to be hosted by the 134-unit grocer, focused on figuring out how dietitians, their retailer-employers, food manufacturers, and other groups and agencies can work together to most effectively and efficiently disseminate nutrition information, and also on what are good methods to use to educate consumers about healthy eating.
“There is such a lot of information out there, much of it from food manufacturers who have their own dietitians, and also from supermarket dietitians who have developed their own programs,” said Barbara Ruhs, Bashas' registered dietitian.
“It's important that we share what we know. We need to develop relationships with our vendors and everyone we can who can help us expand our efforts. Working together, we have the potential to influence the health of our whole nation.”
Ruhs told SN she believes the supermarket arena is the perfect venue for presenting nutrition information and for capturing customers' attention. She pointed out there's evidence that such services have a positive impact on retailers' total sales.
She had the idea for the Bashas'-hosted conference, titled “The Future of Food Nutrition,” and worked with The Field Trip Factory, an educational conference planner, to make it happen.
The two-day meeting, March 10-12, brought together registered dietitians from America's leading supermarket chains and featured a full agenda of educational seminars, most of them led by the supermarket dietitians. Food manufacturers, authors of food-related books, public health organizations and health magazines also had prominent spots on the roster of speakers.
“The presentations were all valuable,” Ruhs told SN. “This was truly an exchange of ideas. We started to accumulate a list of best practices.
Other retailers represented were Supervalu/Albertsons, Giant Eagle, Festival Foods, Kroger/Fry's Food Stores, Lowes Foods, Ahold/Giant Food Stores, H.E. Butt Grocery, Meijer, King Kullen, Hen House Market/Balls Food Stores, Delhaize/Hannaford Bros., Sunflower Farmers Market and FreshDirect, a Web-based retailer.
CPG companies included Del Monte, Frito-Lay, General Mills, Kellogg, PepsiCo and Sara Lee.
Because there were several different sponsors — not just one vendor — and so many different organizations represented in addition to food manufacturers, the summit provided a neutral field for discussion, where ideas could be discussed freely, Ruhs explained.
“It amounted to exploring what are best practices. I learned a lot.”
Ruhs, who was scheduled to speak at the Natural Products Expo West show on Saturday, March 13, changed her entire presentation as a result of the summit meeting here, she said. She wrote her new presentation while en route to the show in Anaheim, Calif., using some of the ideas she had absorbed in the previous two days at the summit.
“My original presentation would have just described the measures we take at Bashas' to relay nutrition information and to create events to educate our customers about healthy eating,” Ruhs said.
“But I changed my mind. I learned so many new things at the summit meeting that I wanted to share them there are the expo. I talked about what we do at Bashas' but also incorporated some of what I had heard from other supermarket dietitians and other speakers we had.”
She said she had been particularly impressed with the efforts at Hen House Supermarkets/Balls Food Stores, Kansas City, Kan., which works directly with local farmers to source natural products. She also talked about some of the contests, events and labeling systems she had heard about at the summit meeting.
At the summit meeting here, Ruhs was one of the presenters on a panel that focused on reaching the “now” consumer via technology: websites, Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
“It's not just teenagers making big use of the technology. I'm not 13, and I use it daily,” Ruhs said. “There are the new moms who are at home, seniors who may be homebound, at least some of the time. We need to reach them in whatever way we can.”
As Ruhs had said earlier, there was much to be learned at the summit from a very diverse line-up of speakers. She particularly applauded a presentation made by author Nancy Tringali Piho, who wrote “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus.”
“[Piho] talked about ways to get our children eating healthy early so they don't think there's anything strange about it later on. Remember, these kids are our future customers.”
Of the summit itself, Ruhs said, “It was a good beginning. We're hoping we can get a similar group together in the fall at the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association.”