The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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

Oldways Supermarket Dietitian Symposium 2012

Oldways Supermarket Dietitian Symposium 2012

Dietitian Dialogues

March 25, 2012

guest columnist, Georgia Orcutt

With Americans making, on average, 61 trips per household per year to the grocery store, registered dietitians who work in supermarkets, and who can reach millions of customers, are ideally positioned to make a big impact in educating shoppers on how to buy, prepare, and eat healthier foods.

What’s the best way for them to do this?

To discuss this question and a host of others, dietitians from supermarkets across North America joined forces with food industry partners committed to improving public health at Oldways' Second Annual Supermarket Dietitian Symposium, February 29 – March 2, at the Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia. Barbara Ruhs, MS, RD, LDN, the corporate dietitian for Bashas’ Family of Stores in Arizona, led the vision and helped to create and execute this year’s event.  

“We have a health crisis in our country and tough economic times require creative solutions to reach time-starved shoppers with nutrition information that can make a difference,” said Ruhs.

Here are some of statistics the group shared. Did you know…..

• 50% of Americans cannot identify six or more heart-healthy foods on a list of 13. 
• 37% of Americans (and 47% of younger people) engage in social media while eating.
• 25% of Americans are not eating adequate fruits and vegetables that can help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
• 93% of Americans say breakfast is important, but only 44% actually eat it.
• One in three kids are overweight or obese, and adult weight statistics are similar.

Supermarket dietitians and food industry partners presented on a number of relevant topics. A popular Supermarket Q & A Panel Discussion was moderated by Stephanie Walker, RD, CD, from Skogen’s Festival Foods, and discussed important issues facing supermarkets interested in hiring dietitians and implementing nutrition programs. 

Allison Yoder, MA, RD from Hy-Vee, a chain with more than 150 dietitians, discussed skills, tools and resources that make in-store dietitians successful. Judy Dodd, MS, RD, LDN from Giant Eagle spoke on leadership and ethics while also emphasizing, “You have to know and love food!” Ruhs from Bashas’ recommended that dietitians gain experience in business, public health, or media before tackling supermarket dietetics. Cindy Silver, MS, RD, LDN from Lowes Foods highlighted the value of being flexible and developing strong relationships across all departments in the store to maximize impact of nutrition promotions. 

In addition, Michael Crouse, Vice President and General Manager, Supermarkets, for Frito Lay, spoke about the business skills dietitians need to master to make them more effective communicators; Joanne Tehrani, MPH, RD, CDN, for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council and Jennifer Felice, RD, from Wegmans shared ideas to empower customers to eat more fruits and vegetables; and Leah McGrath, RD, from Ingles Markets, highlighted the impact of social media. 

The three-day event included networking, in-depth discussions, and idea-sharing, and all participants ate delicious, healthy fare prepared by the hotel’s executive chef, Michael Semancik, and focused on traditional diets.

Takeaways from the event included these goals: 

• Develop a national food literacy to eliminate definitions that sabotage their purpose. For example, advising consumers to avoid “processed foods” isn’t helpful or accurate, when so many nutritious foods, from canned tomatoes to yogurt, are, in fact, processed. And telling customers to shop only the perimeter of the store leaves out all the whole grains, canned beans, frozen vegetables, and other important foods that are sold in the center. 

• Find ways to help shoppers buy and eat more fruits and vegetables in all forms – fresh, canned, and frozen – and eliminate the idea that fresh produce is always the best or the only option.

• Present a unified message about fish and seafood, and help shoppers navigate the many choices, understand aquaculture and sustainable fishing, and master simple recipes. 

• Support supermarket dietitians so they can play a major role in uniting their communities by spearheading programs for schools, coordinating with local hospitals, and finding ways to reach low-income families and promoting healthy economical meals for every customer. 

• Inspire all dietitians wherever they work to speak the same language and share the same healthy messages.

• Help make supermarket shoppers aware of the resources store dietitians can offer.

There is no better time than right now for the supermarkets, dietitians, healthcare organizations, food industry partners and the media to work together to make a positive impact in changing the way people eat, for better health.

Georgia Orcutt is a program manager for Oldways (, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, with a mission to guide people to good health through heritage, using practical and positive programs grounded in science and tradition. Oldways is the parent organization for The Whole Grains Council and The Mediterranean Foods Alliance, and is well-known for creating the Whole Grain Stamp and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Orcutt has spent several decades as a writer and editor for Yankee Magazine and other publications, and is the author of numerous cookbooks including Cooking USA (Chronicle Books) and How to Feed A Teenage Boy (Ten Speed Press). 

*Left to right: Stephanie Walker, RD, CD, Director of Health and Wellness, Skogen's Festival Foods; Cindy Silver, MS, RD, LDN/Market Basket Nutrition, Lowes Foods; Allison Yoder, MA, RD, LD, Health & Wellness Supervisor, Hy-Vee, Inc.; Judith Dodd, MS, RD, LDN, Corporate Nutritionist, Giant Eagle, Inc.; Barb Ruhs, MS, RD, LDN Bashas' Family of Stores