ShopRite dietitian services include store tours, cooking demos and seminars. Photo courtesy of Wakefern Food Corps.
As retailers look to broaden their offerings and better connect with consumer needs, many have hired in-store dietitians to counsel customers on health and wellness issues.
Striking well ahead of the trend with the introduction of a retail dietitian program in 2006, Wakefern Food Corps., Keasbey, N.J., has expanded its efforts rapidly since then. The goal is to ultimately have a dietitian in each of its 250 ShopRite stores.
“It started with an ‘Ask the Dietitian’ table in one of the stores. And then we hired our first dietitian. And now we have more than 50 stores covered by a retail dietitian at ShopRite,” said Melanie Dwornik, retail dietitian supervisor.
ShopRite’s dietitians offer a variety of in-store services, including store tours, seminars, cooking demos, children’s cooking classes and one-on-one consultations that might incorporate a “shop along.”
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Some dietitians also hold events at schools and other locations within their communities. They currently serve ShopRite stores in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
For many customers, the best part of the program is the cost: nothing.
“All services are free to our customers, to our associates and the community,” said Dwornik.
“The customers will always say that the dietitian is the best-kept secret. When they realize that they’re providing a personal service, a service that certainly would be very costly without insurance, or sometimes even with, they really can’t believe it,” she added.
However, ShopRite certainly isn’t keeping its dietitians a secret. Participating locations announce events and services in their circulars and with signs and printed materials throughout the store. Customers can also find events listed online and can search for a store with a dietitian on the ShopRite website.
Although dietitians are hired at the corporate level, each dietitian tailors programs to the individual store and the needs of the community. A dietitian might create different programs if a community has more of an elderly population than young families, Dwornik said.
“And in that instance, they really get to learn what the specific needs of the community are, what their customers are really looking for, whether it’s celiac disease or heart disease or diabetes or just general weight-loss.”
Dwornik sees the role of dietitians as working for the customer.
“And our dietitians build relationships with our customers and have their health and wellness needs in mind and have their best interests in mind. So although the dietitian works in the supermarket, she’s really there as an advocate for the consumer.”
Dietitians also help ShopRite to promote its store as a one-stop shop for food and nutrition.
“And the dietitian, when they’re in the store, they bring health and wellness to life and they provide the customer with the solutions for their diabetes, their heart disease, their weight maintenance, when they’re at the supermarket, so they really don’t have to go anywhere else,” said Dwornik.
“So they really tie our entire health and wellness program together at the store,” she added.
All of Wakefern’s dietitians are registered dietitians, having earned the credential through completing course work and passing a national exam. The company helps them adjust to working in a retail environment by fostering a dialogue with employees in all departments.
“And obviously it’s very different than a clinical setting. So we want them all to get a sense for what it means to be a dietitian at retail and understand how the supermarket works.”
It can be hard to quantify the investment of an in-store dietitian, but the broader effects are easy to see.
“The dietitian is an added service, and it is a wonderful tool in building customer loyalty,” said Dwornik.
ShopRite’s dietitians have recently begun highlighting healthy products in the store by designating them as “Dietitian’s Selections,” although Wakefern does not necessarily track sales of those items. The monthly selections tie into a theme, such as American Heart Month, and are called out with signs in the store.
Dietitians will also use those products in cooking classes and demos that month.
As the overall dietitian program grows, Dwornik said it was important to keep evolving.
“And because it’s such a new program you need to be open-minded to kind of assessing what the specific needs of the store are, and the population. Because certainly it’s not cookie cutter. Each store has different needs and customer base,” said Dwornik.
Wakefern also works to better understand what customers are looking for from dietitians through surveys and focus groups.
“We want to hone in on what information the customers want to receive in terms of health and wellness at the supermarket and then how they prefer to receive it,” said Dwornik.
The company hasn’t set any hard goals for adding in-store dietitians in 2013, but so far it has five in training this year.
“We certainly have a push to go and expand our program … with the goal of ultimately having one represented for each store,” said Dwornik.
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