Nutritionist: It’s a Dream Job
September 28, 2008
Even though the idea of being supermarket savvy has been around since the 1980s, the attention given to services of dietitians as educators and marketers of a healthy lifestyle has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. In 2006, the American Dietetic Association Times released a cover story on RDs finding their dream job in – you guessed it – supermarket chains around the country. Likewise in 2006, Progressive Grocerpublished a story about supermarket operators gaining nutrition expertise to make their stores more health-minded destinations.
Why is this trend so popular? A growing number of people are thinking about trans fats, omega-3-fatty acids, superfoods to slow down the aging process, food safety issues, organics, weight issues in adults and children, and even the prevention – and treatment – of disease. At the same time, the economic climate of our times is changing the way people spend their time and money. This combination of factors is driving the creation of healthy shopping initiatives by trained industry professionals.
In November 2005, I accepted a position as Corporate Dietitian of United Supermarkets, LLC, a family-owned company that has been in business for more than 90 years. My career as a Registered Dietitian (RD) had previously focused on education-based academia, and I was pleasantly surprised by the abundance of educational ventures available to me in this service-oriented position.
One of these ventures was the health tag program I helped develop and implement in 2006. The program is designed to guide our store guests in making decisions to improve health and manage or prevent disease. The tags are color-coded and are part of the shelf price tags for easy reference. Here’s a quick tag breakdown:
· The Gluten Free (GF) tag is used to identify foods that do not contain gluten as an ingredient and are also produced/manufactured in a dedicated gluten free facility. This tag is useful to those who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance and may be used by those with wheat allergy, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, autism and other immunological conditions.
· The Heart Healthy Diabetes Management (HHDM) tag is used by those pursuing a heart-healthy lifestyle and is based on guidelines from the American Heart Association. It also focuses on choosing whole grains to assist in heart health and diabetes risk reduction/management.
· The Dietitian’s Choice (DC) tag allows us to point out great tasting lean and low-fat choices of meat and dairy. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage choosing and preparing foods lower in saturated and trans fats with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners. This tag helps our guests to choose healthy amounts of these foods which provide great sources of protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals.
· The Sugar-Free/Reduced Sugar (S) tag is designed for our guests who have expressed interest in products to help manage diabetes or weight. Since most sugars provide only empty calories, focusing on sugar reduction is a means for individuals to begin reducing calories and making small lifestyle changes that can bear long-term health benefits.
· The Organic (O) tag identifies foods that meet the USDA national standards for organic labeling. Foods that bear this tag contain 95 to 100 percent organic ingredients.
Foods are evaluated by RDs on a regular basis to determine if standards are met to receive a tag. Though food items may qualify for more than one tag, each receives only one tag based on a priority system. A product qualifying for multiple tags receives the highest-ranking tag from the list above.
To market this program, literature and signage is placed in stores, and information is also found on the Health and Wellness section of the company’s website. In addition, dietitians do free supermarket store tours for adults and kids, and teach classes to team members, store guests and community groups.
The health tag program is just one of many exciting programs that we have launched, with more to come. In fact, this month we will begin an advertising campaign that focuses on quick, easy, healthy meal planning and shopping for our budget-conscience guests. Weekly menus and recipes will be available through advertising circulars and via the website. Nutritional analyses and costs per meal for a family of four will be included too. Our objective? To feed a family of four on $15.00 or less to help ease the pain of grocery and fuel expenses.
The expertise of RDs in our business provides valuable services, brings more guests through our doors, excites loyal shoppers and drives sales. It is indeed the dream job that I never knew I wanted. My work in this important field continues to challenge me on a daily basis, and inspires me to develop creative ways of serving others.
Tyra M. Carter holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Family and Consumer Science Education from Texas Tech University with a research focus on childhood health problems. Prior to joining the United Supermarkets team, the focus of her career was in academia both at the university level and in nursing education. As Corporate Dietitian, Dr. Carter is responsible for nutrition education for team members, store guests and United Supermarkets community partners. Visit www.unitedtexas.com for more information about upcoming Health and Wellness initiatives at United Supermarkets, LLC.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.