The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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

Thoughts for May: Supermarket Dietitians and National Mediterranean Diet Month

Thoughts for May: Supermarket Dietitians and National Mediterranean Diet Month

Dietitian Dialogues

April 24, 2011

During the 1928 presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee ran a newspaper ad promising that, if elected, Herbert Hoover would put a chicken in every pot. More than 80 years after that effective slogan, we at Oldways, a nonprofit in Boston, have new a goal: A dietitian in every supermarket.

“Most supermarket dietitians are a relatively new breed,” explains Barbara Ruhs, MS, RD, LDN, corporate dietitian for Arizona-based Bashas’ Family of Stores. She adds that larger national chains offer great career opportunities for dietitians, especially if RDs aim for executive positions that implement health and wellness as part of a company’s overall business strategy. 

Some progressive retailers have had dietitians on staff since the 1990s, and over the last five years or so, the number has increased. But there’s a long way to go. These nutrition professionals are the key to building many critically important bridges in changing the way America eats: steering consumers to make smart choices; promoting home cooking; working with local hospitals and other community partners; finding ways to connect kids with healthy foods; and much more.  

Plus, business savvy supermarket RDs make money for their stores. “RDs pay for themselves,” says Donna Dolan, MS, RD, LD, an independent consultant who worked for ten years at Hy-Vee and launched a program to put a dietitian in every Hy-Vee store, a total of more than 100 dietitians. “Whatever foods you talk about as a supermarket RD, you’re going to get a sales lift.”

Dolan delivered this message at the recent Oldways 2011 Supermarket Dietitian Symposium in Santa Rosa, California, planned in conjunction with Ruhs, where nearly 40 RDs representing retailers from coast to coast and industry sponsors including Del Monte and Frito-Lay gathered for three days to talk about best practices and ideas for promoting healthy eating.  

Speakers included Phil Lempert (OUR VERY OWN!), who opened the event with pointers on supermarket trends and led the group on a tour of the Covingtown Mall Whole Foods store, and Dr. David Just from Cornell University, who challenged the group with his observations on what motivates consumers, each of whom make 200 to 300 food decisions every day.  

The RDs brought many innovative ideas to the table: Trish Kazacos outlined Wegmans’ simple and successful “Eat Well, Live Well” principles and showed an idea for connecting food to pharmacy; Jennifer Egeland explained how Balls Foods has set up Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to make local produce, breads, and cheese available at retail locations; Stephanie Walker from Festival Foods outlined how she works with community partners, training hospital dietitians to do store tours for diabetic patients and others with chronic disease; Caroline Whitby described how Giant Eagle takes 10,000 kids a year on Be a Smart Shopper tours; Rosalind Benner, H-E-B, creates bilingual cooking demos for local TV.

To help dietitians target healthy eating this spring, Oldways and its Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA) are promoting National Mediterranean Diet Month in May, an ideal time to introduce shoppers to easy-to prepare, affordable Mediterranean foods available in the supermarket, including fresh fruits and vegetables, hummus, Greek yogurt, seafood, pasta and whole grains, and sources of healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and peanuts.
The celebration includes a program to deliver one million Mediterranean Diet Pyramids to American households as a way to reinforce the health benefits of this gold standard, scientifically proven way of eating and living. Supermarkets can participate in this national effort by handing out to their customers Oldways’ new brochure outlining the Med Diet in eight simple steps.  

Oldways introduced the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid back in 1993. The benefits of the Mediterranean Diet were reaffirmed recently when the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans touted it as one of the most thoroughly researched models for healthy eating – now recommending it, along with the DASH diet and the USDA Eating Pattern.

Please visit the Oldways’ web site to find a free, downloadable Welcome to the Mediterranean Diet brochure and the Med Diet Pyramid.

Georgia Orcutt is a program manager for Oldways (, an internationally-respected non-profit, changing the way people eat through positive and practical programs grounded in science and tradition. The Whole Grains Council and The Mediterranean Foods Alliance are two of Oldways’ programs. Georgia spent several decades as a food editor and writer for various publications. And, she is the author of numerous cookbooks including the Cooking USA series (Chronicle Books) and How to Feed a Teenage Boy (Ten Speed Press).