Registered dietitians, who play a key role as grocers, connect food with health

Brief description of the dive:

  • Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are playing an increasingly important role in grocers’ health and wellness efforts as they relate to food, the Food Industry Association (FMI) found in its latest report.
  • Eighty-one percent of food retailers surveyed employ nutritionists, with nearly two-thirds (65%) at the corporate level, nearly one-third (31%) in-store or virtually and 12% regionally, FMI found. Nearly half (48%) said their nutritionists have 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 more sustainable health and wellness destinations,” FMI said.

Dive Insight:

The food industry is strengthening its ties to health as retailers focus on food as medicine, which the Academy
of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation defines as a philosophy in which food and nutrition help people through interventions that support health and well-being.

FMI said many of its supermarket members now offer one-on-one counseling with RDNs and that “remote nutrition” initiatives have “expanded significantly” since the start of the pandemic, reducing customer barriers to accessing nutrition counseling.

The food retail setting presents a unique opportunity for RDNs to improve public health through nutrition-focused, solution-oriented shopper guidance, FMI noted. RDNs can help customers and employees shop virtually or in person at stores, provide nutrition advice and support a range of initiatives, from preventive medicine to disease management and treatment.

The trade group noted that grocers see financial incentives when they tie their food offerings more closely to customers’ health needs. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of retailers in FMI’s The Food Industry Speaks survey said using food to manage and avoid health problems was one of the biggest positive issues impacting their sales and profits last year.

“When food and nutrition programs are delivered by trusted experts at the grocery store (in person or online), the idea of ​​shaping the grocery store as a community destination for health and wellness comes to life,” FMI said in the report.

Nearly half (48%) of shoppers surveyed said registered dietitians help them stay healthy, while 46% and 44% said the same about their grocery stores and grocery store pharmacists, respectively, according to the report.

“One-on-one counseling with an RDN can help a client build a meaningful shopping list, optimize available tools and resources, manage health conditions, identify barriers, monitor biometrics, and ultimately celebrate success,” notes the trade group.

Health and wellness offerings also impact grocery store workers along with their consumers. More than a quarter (27%) of retailers surveyed said they offer nutrition counseling to employees, while 39% offer wellness courses, 46% offer health screenings and 65% have healthy recipes.

FMI said the increased use of virtual platforms to connect with associates has further helped provide support to employees, such as providing access to the same dietitian-created programs and resources available to
customers.

In late 2021, FMI launched an employee wellness sharing group that includes company participants to help leaders build employee wellness programs. Across companies of varying sizes, group members found they shared similar challenges, the trade group’s report said.

“The group discussed best practices on topics such as fostering communications, engaging multigenerational employees, using internal websites and apps, engaging with community activities, and measuring benefits,” according to FMI.

On the legislative front, FMI supports bipartisan legislation that would increase access to consultation with RDNs by allowing Medicare coverage for medical nutrition therapy (MNT), which can help people manage and treat illnesses, to include a broader 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.

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