Practice Blog

To share practice related stories, create connections and engage readers in the amazing diversity of dietitian experiences.


The growing season of retail dietitians

Nicole Fetterly is the Nutrition Operations Manager at Choices Markets in British Columbia, a chain of natural and organic supermarkets. She is a busy mom of two kids, ages five and three, with whom she loves to cook and who helped her proudly win the Popular Vote in this year’s BC Dairy Foundation Better Together Hands-On Cook-Off Contest! Never content with mediocrity, Nicole left a legacy within the UBC Dietetic program by advocating for change for the Food Lab course curriculum. After conducting a needs assessment, she co-authored the course manual and is always happy to hear that it’s one of the students’ favourite courses. Nicole continues to educate through writing by contributing to blogs and co-authoring a series of wellness books for Choices, the most recent on her favourite topic: sustainability! She also plays an education and advocacy role for her sector of the profession and recently spoke at Grocery Innovations Canada on the ROI of retail dietitians.


  

I always knew I wanted to work as a supermarket dietitian, even back while attending university a decade ago. It seemed like the best time and place to reach people with nutrition education—when they are making their decisions about what foods to bring home.

Back then there were only one or two retailers in BC and a couple more across the country with a nutrition program. Even when I finally did make the shift from clinical practice to a retail position four years ago, I was one of only a handful of dietitians doing this kind of work. It was pretty obvious when I attended Dietitians of Canada conferences and other dietitian events that I was in a tiny minority.

The tide is turning

This year something happened that really opened my eyes to the emerging market of retail dietitians. In April, I was invited to attend the Oldways Symposium in Arizona—a conference for retail dietitians. You can imagine my shock when there were over 120 dietitians attending who do what I do, in some way, shape or form!

Most of them work in the U.S. where the Retail Dietitians Business Alliance states there are over 400 dietitians working in supermarkets. According to the Food Marketing Institute, 85% of U.S. retailers now have a dietitian working for them, at least at the corporate level. Another 50% of retailers have dietitians on a regional level and about 33% have them in all stores.



It was also fantastic to see some Canadian representation at the conference with dietitians attending from Metro, Loblaws, Sobeys, Thriftys and Fresh St/IGA. Canadian retailers are definitely catching on to the growing need for dietitians in their stores, especially with so many cutbacks in health care; it’s fantastic to see a strong growth sector for our profession.

Besides networking with all the dietitians and hearing about the programs they run in their organizations, we also had the opportunity to connect with another type of dietitian—those working for food manufacturers and food marketing associations. They had great resources about the foods they were representing and the most current research about their health benefits. Of course we also got to sample the food; we tried many great dishes that had corresponding recipes available for distribution.

Full of inspiration (and great food)

The food and conference were very well organized and executed—whoever thought that you could eat healthier when you’re traveling! But, most importantly, was the inspiration from connecting with colleagues in the same area of work as well as the education sessions tailored to the needs of retail dietitians. My favourite session was one on Nudge Marketing by Dr. Collin Payne, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico. He uses subtle strategies to encourage healthier purchases in grocery stores without negatively affecting the bottom line for the retailer or the consumer. From mirrors on the ends of the grocery carts, to footprints to follow on the floor, to signage in the grocery cart suggesting you fill it halfway with fruits and veggies. I came home eager to put these ideas into practice.

One major focus of discussion was about understanding the Return on Investment (ROI) of retail dietitians. Whether appealing to management for program funding, more staff dietitians or an annual raise, it is essential for the retail dietitian to know their worth. Nutrition programs in supermarkets are cost-centres, unlike the other revenue-generating departments, like produce. However, the value they bring is in many ways immeasurable—from increased customer loyalty and basket size, to community outreach, to healthier employees.

Endless possibilities

The expertise of the dietitian can extend to so many facets of a supermarket organization beyond the most common "store tour":

  • labelling and in-store signage
  • social, print, and news media—content and company representation
  • food demonstrations and vendor relationships
  • cooking classes and seminars
  • recipes and meal ideas
  • management of employee wellness programs
  • managing food safety plans
  • overseeing commissary operations and menu development
  • private label product development

In fact, I was flabbergasted when in 2011 our CEO asked me to take over Deli Operations for a year while a colleague was on leave. Although I had little direct experience, the education of a dietitian can easily tie in to managing staff, making buying decisions, overseeing food production and distribution and so much more.

Dietitians have a unique knowledge base and skill set that can bring them so many job opportunities well beyond the hospital. I’m so proud to be part of a growing movement of retail dietitians and welcome my colleagues who are joining this sector of our profession. I hope you love it as much as I do!
 


Editor's note: Retail dietitians can have a huge impact on the foods Canadians are bringing home. I have seen this positive impact first hand and I am so excited to see this sector of our profession growing. Seeing customers leave the store loaded with healthy choices and new ideas is so rewarding!

Have you worked in this area or are you interested in working in retail? Share your thoughts and stories below!

  1. Thanks for all of your wonderful comments and words of encouragement! It's exciting to be in a growing sector of our profession.

    I would love to figure out a process for connecting supermarket RDs as food experts for clinical and community RDs to reach out to with their questions about products.

    I would also be happy to be part of a research study into the ROI of Retail Dietitians. I'll get in touch Evelyn!
  2. Thank you Nicole for shedding some light on what appears to be an emerging subfield of dietetics...certainly when I graduated from my undergrad in 1991 this wasn't even on my radar as one of the fringe fields of practice! Given your comment about ROI, and by extension cost benefit analysis, of this service I think this would make an excellent research project (if it's not already being studied). If you or any other readers are interested in pursuing this type of research, I'd be happy to discuss further.

    Evelyn Cornelissen, PhD, RD
    Health services and policy researcher
  3. Great article! I am so glad to hear that the UBC food lab course curriculum got revamped. As a student who took the program, I always felt like there was a disconnect and a missed opportunity. Would love to see what the new curriculum is like! Great job at pioneering this new initiative in the field of dietetics!
  4. Such a great article Nicole! I'm suprised to hear that so may US retailers have Dietitians! Sounds like we're moving in the right direction in Canada.

    I work as an outpatient dietitian, and couldn't agree more how important it is to know which food products are out there and the benefits and drawbacks of these products. I find that with working in a hospital, it's easy to get out of touch with food itself and the different products available in the grocery stores. This is where we clinical dietitians can rely on you supermarket dietitians to keep us up to date. So keep up the great work!
  5. I have been an in-store dietitian for Sobeys in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, for the past 6 years - and I love my job! The best part of my day is helping people find practical ways to put good nutrition into practice in their own lives. I love working directly with food and the public, and our dietitian team does many of the things listed in this blog. It's a very rewarding, and dynamic field of dietetics to be sure! Thank you for sharing your story, Nicole.

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