The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Food Experiences: Coming to a Store Near You

Food Experiences:  Coming to a Store Near You

Dietitian Dialogues

February 24, 2008

Food Experiences: Coming to a Store Near You

Courtney Keonin, RD, LD

The food industry instinctively responds to consumer demand, which in recent years has revolved around the latest nutrition trends. Shoppers are constantly bombarded by new food products and new tastes while trying to manage tight food budgets. How do retailers at the store level get customers to be adventurous and willing to try new or different foods that are healthy for them? How can customers know they’re spending their dollars on a product likely to bring satisfaction?

The solution: in-store food experiences. It’s the “try before you buy” concept. I’m not talking about old-fashioned demos where a piece of pita bread is served on a toothpick. What I’m talking about is providing an entire tasting experience, where the customer receives practical take-home information and nutrition education.

At Hy-Vee, we educate our customers by creating exciting food experiences. With help from corporate dietitians, various food vendors, national and local organizations (e.g. American Dietitian Association, state beef councils) and in-store registered dietitians, Hy-Vee provides customers with the motivation and resources to make healthful food choices. Each in-store department offers easy-to-read posters and brochures on the nutrition of their products. Dietitians explain the nutritional breakdown of the food or dish being sampled and provide take-home materials such as flyers with selection, storage, and preparation/cooking tips, meal suggestions, coupons, even a shopping list for all the ingredients in a recipe.
Registered dietitians are key in leading these food experiences. Equipped with tried-and-true recipes and quality ingredients, Hy-Vee dietitians use their skills in cooking and expertise in nutrition to bring a fun, educational tasting experience to customers. Customers are drawn to the aroma and appeal of the food along with attractive signs and posters promoting the product. Hy-Vee dietitians have the advantage of promoting several departments in one food experience. For example, a food experience may include a sampling of various flavored cheeses (delicatessen) along with freshly-baked bread (bakery), organic chai tea (HealthMarket), cut-up fruit (produce), pineapple corers and mango slicers on display (general merchandise), and a fresh floral arrangement (floral). And they can create a setup where shoppers are able to buy everything right there to make at home that night. 
Dietitians can also show customers how versatile, nutritious, and delicious a product or recipe is. Customers who want easy, quick recipes that don’t require a lot of fancy ingredients can take advantage of Hy-Vee’s HealthyBites menu suggestions, which are filled with delicious meal ideas for all lifestyles and diets. Developed on a weekly basis, HealthyBites menus provide day-by-day entrées and side dishes along with the nutritional information for calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat. To help shoppers stick to their budget-saving grocery shopping, suggested meals correspond with the store ad for the week. Hy-Vee customers can also choose from regular, heart-healthy, diabetic-friendly or weight-control menus.
Customers who would like to modify a menu or recipe to their individual nutritional needs can consult with the in-store dietitian. Hy-Vee dietitians take customers, individually or by group, on a tour through the aisles to point out healthy foods, teach how to read labels, and offer budget-saving tips. These tours focus on healthy eating in general as well as special needs topics such as diabetes, heart health, cholesterol, hypertension, vegetarianism, celiac disease, weight management, and food allergies.
The in-store food experience can be as involved as the customer desires. Just want a taste? Try a sample. Want to make it at home? Take a recipe. Want to learn more about cooking? Observe the dietitian using the cooking equipment and gadgets. Want to learn how it fits into your dietary goals? Let the dietitian help you discover how.
It’s all about giving customers more experiential shopping with more tasting and a welcoming shopping experience. Furthermore, customers often walk away not only knowing what they’re going to put on the dinner table that evening, but knowing that the dinner meal is going to be as simple to make as it is healthy.
Courtney Keonin, RD, LD has worked as a registered dietitian for two Hy-Vee stores in the Kansas City area. She is currently the president of the Kansas City Chapter #4 Celiac Sprue Association.

As a nutritionist working for a supermarket, you have a unique outlook on how retailers are increasing health awareness at the store level and the kind of questions that shoppers ask. Each month, we'll be featuring a guest column, written by a nutritionist, that communicates this point of view on a variety of topics. And we want to hear from you. If you are a supermarket nutritionist interested in sharing your perspective and insights, we would love to help you share your thoughts! Please contact Allison Bloom at