- Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) are playing more of a starring role in grocers’ health and wellbeing efforts as they relate to food, the Food Industry Association (FMI) found in its latest report.
- Eighty-one percent of surveyed food retailers employ dietitians, with almost two-thirds (65%) at the corporate level, nearly a third (31%) at stores or virtually and 12% regionally, FMI found. Nearly half (48%) said their dietitians hold strategic leadership roles.
- “Retailers and product suppliers and manufacturers have more opportunities than ever to leverage the work of registered dietitians in efforts to make grocery stores into more robust health and well-being destinations,” FMI said.
The grocery industry is increasing its ties to healthcare as retailers focus on food as medicine, which the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation defines as a philosophy where food and nutrition help people through interventions that support health and wellness.
FMI said that many of its supermarket members already offer one-on-one counseling with RDNs and that “tele-nutrition” initiatives have “expanded considerably” since the pandemic started, lowering customers’ barriers to accessing nutrition counseling.
Food retail setting poses a unique opportunity for RDNs to boost public health through nutrition-focused, solution-oriented guidance for shoppers, FMI noted. RDNs can help customers and employees shop store aisles virtually or in-person, provide nutrition advice and support a range of initiatives, from preventative medicine to disease management and treatment.
The trade group noted that grocers are seeing financial incentives when they more closely link their food offerings to customers’ healthcare needs. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of retailers in FMI’s The Food Industry Speaks survey said leveraging food to manage and avoid health issues was one of the biggest positive issues impacting their sales and profits last year.
“When food and nutrition programs are delivered by credible experts in the grocery store (in-person or online), the idea of framing the grocery store as a community destination for health and well-being comes to life,” FMI said in the report.
Nearly half (48%) of surveyed shoppers said registered dietitians are helping them stay healthy, while 46% and 44%, respectively, said the same for their food store and grocery store pharmacists, per the report.
“One-on-one counseling with an RDN can help a customer build a meaningful shopping list, optimize available tools and resources, manage health conditions, identify obstacles, monitor biometrics, and ultimately celebrate success,” the trade group noted.
Health and wellbeing offerings also impact grocers’ workers along with their consumers. More than a quarter (27%) of surveyed retailers said they offer employees nutrition counseling, while 39% make well-being classes available, 46% offer have health screenings and 65% have healthy recipes.
FMI said that the increased use of virtual platforms to connect with associates further helped deliver support to employees, such as providing access to the same dietitian-created programs and resources available to
At the end of 2021, FMI started an Employee Wellness Share Group, which includes company participants, to help leaders stand up wellness programs for employees. Across companies of different sizes, members of the group have discovered they share similar challenges, the trade group said in the report.
“The group has discussed best practices on topics such as driving communications, appealing to multi-generational staff members, leveraging internal websites and apps, tying into community activities and measuring benefits,” according to FMI.
On the legislative front, FMI supports bipartisan legislation that would increase access to counseling with RDNs by allowing Medicare coverage of Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT), which can help people manage and treat diseases, to include a wider range of medical conditions such as prediabetes and cancer.
“The legislation would also increase the list of qualified providers authorized to refer their patients for MNT, adding nurse practitioners, physician assistants, clinical nurse specialists and psychologists,” FMI said.