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Produce Collaborations with Supermarket Dietitians Make Cents!

Produce Collaborations with Supermarket Dietitians Make Cents!

Dietitian Dialogues

October 30, 2011

One of the most important departments in the supermarket is the produce department. It is typically the first area a customer visits when entering any supermarket and is often cited as the number one factor in choosing a grocery store. Colorful displays and the quality of fresh produce set the stage for the rest of the shopping experience. As a registered dietitian for a supermarket, encouraging customers to purchase (and eat) more produce is two-fold. First, there is no other dietary recommendation that has the potential to improve overall health more than getting folks to eat more fruits and vegetables. Second, from a retail business perspective, produce departments have a huge profit potential.

Customers are increasingly more aware that eating healthy and consuming more fresh produce is an easy way to boost nutrition. The misconception that eating healthy is more expensive is rapidly changing. Federal assistance programs, such as WIC (Women, Infants and Children) along with SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program) have recently been overhauled to include more fresh produce as part of the standard food package. This is a radical change considering that changes like this have not happened in more than 30 years! The opportunity gap, that is the potential for sales (profit) between current consumption and what is recommended dietary intake, of produce is vast. In many cases, the potential profit hidden in the produce department is equivalent to millions of dollars per year per store. The Produce for Better Health Foundation has a handy tool that retailers can use to calculate the opportunity gap in produce sales for their stores.

Supermarket dietitians can help fill the gap for retailers and the produce industry. Shopper marketing insights can provide a blueprint to increase produce sales, and in many cases, supermarket dietitians can be an influential link between retailer and industry that makes produce promotions to customers a success. These are some examples of how a supermarket dietitian can help.

In-Store Nutrition Education

According to some industry reports, an estimated 70% of purchase decisions are made in the store. In many retail chains such as Hy-Vee, Giant Eagle, and Hannaford, store-based supermarket dietitians can have a direct impact on customer behavior and influence produce sales.

Food Demonstrations: Dietitians hosting healthy food demonstrations is a win-win. Not only are they empowered with expert nutrition information, but in many cases, dietitians have additional culinary skills that can add an extra flair to demos. Registered dietitians are trained to work with the public and offer unique skills that can empower shoppers to change behavior over the long-haul.

Supermarket Tours: Dietitian-led supermarket tours are a great way to increase knowledge and trial of produce items. Many dietitians lead themed tours to focus on different populations or topics. For example, many dietitians offer specific tours for weight-loss, cholesterol reduction or diabetes management. Often times, in my experience, a considerable amount of time is spent in the produce department orientating customers to the range of nutritional quality and versatility of different produce items. Helping customers to understand the value of shopping for seasonal and local produce is often useful for budget-conscious shoppers, as is providing insight into the difference between conventional and organic produce.

In-Store Radio Messages: Dietitians are trusted sources of health information and can provide accurate nutrition information to market produce via in-store radio. Providing regular air time for dietitians to infuse the in-store airways with helpful nutrition tips and advice for shopping and meal preparation can make an impact on shopping behavior.

Store Signage: Nutritional produce signage is an easy way to highlight healthy attributes to customers on a consistent basis. Providing tips on how to include produce items easily into lunchbox meals or easy snack choices can inspire customers to buy more than their typical routine banana and apple purchases. The “Foodie” movement is going strong and customers are savvier about including a broader range of ingredients. Now you can find avocado on sandwiches at Subway! Dietitians can help inspire customers and provide unique nutritional information that empowers culinary experimentation.


Supermarket dietitians across the country use different advertising vehicles to get their messages across. Smart retailers will infuse nutrition advice throughout all of their publications and marketing materials to maximize sales potential.

Weekly Sales Circular: In addition to price and item promotions, there are many other options for the dietitian to highlight existing produce items in the weekly ad. Simple, short nutrition blurbs alongside produce items in the ad can help boost awareness (and sales). For example, calling out that avocados are a “healthy source of fat” or a great option for a “nutritious baby food,” are easy to do in a limited space. Also, many retailers have nutrition labeling programs and a simple graphic image of the nutrition attribute in the ad, such as “good source of vitamin C” or a NuVal score, and these can be beneficial to the consumer.

Nutrition Newsletters: Any supermarket that has a dietitian has a nutrition newsletter in some shape or form. These publications often feature coupons and recipes alongside valuable nutrition advice. In lieu of a produce “sponsor,” my goal when promoting produce on the cover of my newsletter is to find a recipe and coupon that will highlight a produce item and attract customers to read the rest of the publication. But produce sponsors can also help retail dietitians. They can offer several healthy recipes to choose from (with nutritional facts) along with providing high-resolution artwork, and provide information on upcoming customer promotions and contests. As these publications are created at least three months in-advance, it’s important for retail dietitians to get connected with sponsors sooner, rather than later.


Retailers who adopt new technologies to reach consumers will always be ahead of the curve. Nielsen data indicates that more than 50% of consumers are using some form of technology in regards to grocery shopping. Some customers are viewing circulars online, others are downloading coupons from websites and a growing percentage are using internet-enabled smartphones to download free or low-cost tools to improve shopping needs (they make lists, compare prices, find nutrition facts, and so on). Dietitians armed with this information are prepared to appeal to health conscious consumers by making nutrition and health advice come to life at retail. There are a number of ways in which supermarket dietitians are using technology to promote produce, from Blogs to YouTube videos, and so on. The best part is that consumers can access this information anytime and at their own convenience.

Social Networking: Supermarket dietitians are also taking social networking by storm. Twitter and Facebook are low-cost marketing tools that provide a fun, educational forum for dietitians to connect directly with customers. Posting healthy recipes, polling customers on produce knowledge or favorite recipes can help dietitians target specific requests from customers. Twitter is another tool used by supermarket dietitians to maintain regular contact with customers and the general public. It’s a great tool to generate media interest and to interact with the community in a less formal environment.


Customers visiting the pharmacy are a captive audience and represent a great opportunity for supermarket dietitians to share advice on disease management and prevention. Offering pharmacy customers free education materials such as nutrition newsletters with coupons for healthy products and recipes will be a welcome distraction as customers wait for prescriptions to be filled.

Prescription Messages: In addition, many prescriptions are dispensed with required printed medication advice. This printed material often is one-sided and nutrition education, recipes and healthy shopping lists can be printed on the opposite side of this material. Catalina’s pharmacy program available at some retailers offers the opportunity to provide targeted health messages on prescriptions. For example, printing a heart healthy shopping list for customers filling prescriptions for heart medications.


Supermarket dietitians offer a variety of impactful solutions to increase produce sales. The goal of this article is to highlight the many areas in which supermarket dietitians are actively engaging consumers by providing expert nutrition advice along the entire path to purchase (planning; shopping; and consuming). Align produce promotions with retail dietitians to maximize sales of produce and make a valuable contribution to changing public health.


Barbara Ruhs, MS, RD, LDN is a Phoenix, AZ-based Registered Dietitian for Bashas’ Family of Stores. She is a passionate public health advocate and is on the cutting edge of exploring, developing and testing effective strategies to inspire Americans to improve health while shopping at their local grocery store. Follow her onTwitter@EatSmartAZ or join her on Facebook at BashasDietitian.