In honor of this month’s Eat Well Connect newsletter highlighting the importance of retail dietitians and the power of food retail, we’re thrilled to feature five stellar dietitians and nutritionists this issue. We had the opportunity to ask these retail experts some questions about their career journeys and the food retail environment today:

  • Ashley Kibutha, RD, LD – Consultant Dietitian and former Retail Dietitian at Coborn’s Supermarkets; located in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Meredith McGrath, RD, LDN – Nutrition Marketing and Communications Specialist at Redner’s Markets; located in the Reading, Pennsylvania area.
  • Yvette Waters, MS, RDN, CISSN – Nutrition Strategist and Brand Influencer at Raley’s; located in Sacramento, California.
  • Mary Robinson, RD, LDN – Retail Dietitian at the GIANT Company; located in the Greater Philadelphia area.
  • And Eat Well Global’s own Emily Stephens, RNutr – Account Coordinator at Eat Well Global and Former Nutritionist at Marks and Spencer; located in Newbury, United Kingdom.

Can you share about your background in food retail and the path that led to your current role?

Ashley: My first professional role after completing my dietetic internship was joining Coborn’s in the St. Cloud, Minnesota area as a supermarket dietitian in 2012! I stayed in this role for almost 8 years, and during that time I wore many hats. I did everything from teaching nutrition classes and cooking demos in-store to commercial media and social media strategy. Over time we hired additional dietitians, and I began to lead this team and further manage corporate initiatives for employee wellness, strategic community healthcare partnerships, and the implementation of our Dietitian’s Choice criteria and shelf-tag program in all stores. Now as a consultant dietitian in Nairobi, I’ve spent a lot of time conducting outreach to physicians and allied health professionals, such as physical/physio therapists, to educate them on the credibility and value of a registered dietitian in practice from an obesity, disease-management, and disease prevention/wellness perspective. As I’ve opened my own consulting practice, this outreach has proven to be an integral part of my success here. In the city and metro areas, we have wonderful supermarkets such as Carrefour, that provide a huge variety of western, international, and local/African foods. However, the concept of a supermarket dietitian is basically unheard of here. Just prior to the COVID pandemic in early 2020, I had begun outreach to local retailers to introduce and explain the concept in more detail which was met with great enthusiasm and interest! Now that we’re approaching a new normal in a post-COVID world, I think there is a huge opportunity to pursue a role as a consultant with a retailer here in Nairobi.

Mary: During my internship before becoming a registered dietitian, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a retail dietitian and absolutely fell in love with their role. Since becoming a dietitian and before my time in food retail, I spent some time working in public health providing nutrition education to the community. Following, I held a position as a foodservice dietitian and gained knowledge about specialty ingredients, products, and recipe development and creation. The combination of the two experiences prepared me with valuable skills that prepared me for my work in food retail.

Meredith: When I became a registered dietitian 18 years ago, I followed the typical “clinical” route. I enjoyed working on a team of veteran dietitians and learning about healthcare. After several other roles as a Clinical Nutrition Manager, Dialysis Dietitian and Adjunct Professor, my friend sent me the job listing for my current position. Her email read “this sounds like you.” The job description required an outgoing personality, a dynamic team player and a background in retail. Well, that was the one thing I lacked. I didn’t really know anything about the grocery industry, but one thing I did have, was a strong sense of consumerism. I loved food, shopping, and all things marketing. Thirteen years later, I have never looked back!

Emily: I began my journey in food retail in 2016. I had finished an internship with the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) and began a one-year placement with BNF and Marks & Spencer (M&S), as an Associate Nutritionist. Four days a week I worked alongside the Company Nutritionist at M&S, supporting the implementation of M&S’s nutrition policy and spent the remaining day with BNF. Retail is a very fast paced environment, so the year whizzed by! As a newly qualified Nutritionists at the time, this experience really helped me to understand the nutrition space within the food industry and the variety of ways that as a Nutritionist or Dietitian working in retail you can make positively impact consumer health. I then had a year break before heading back to London to work in contract catering for The Good Eating Company (GEC), where I joined as an Assistant Nutritionist and ended my time with them as the Health & Wellbeing Lead. I then joined Eat Well Global as an Account Coordinator in 2021, which is where I am today!

Are there any aspects of your position as a retail dietitian that might surprise people?

Ashley: Now as a consultant dietitian in Nairobi, I find myself incorporating retail into my day-to-day! I currently work with physicians, physio therapists, and chefs to provide tailored nutrition education and services to my clients. A significant part of this work includes taking my clients directly to the local supermarket to teach them how to shop for themselves. In the city, it is also customary for some families to have a personal cook or nanny. For my clients that have such service providers, I try to ensure that both my client and the individual responsible for food preparation in the home receive the same nutrition education to ensure consistency in healthful food shopping and preparation! I see the supermarket as the ultimate educational hub for food and nutrition, so I try to get all of my clients in the store with me at least once. It makes a huge difference in outcomes.

Mary: One part of my role that has been surprising to even me has been my involvement with our marketing department. We work closely with the marketing team on many different projects. Through these interactions, I have been challenged to think more from a marketing perspective when appropriate, which allows me to be creative, too! Before working in retail, I never had the opportunity or reason to think through a different perspective other than nutrition and dietetics. I love learning about marketing and believe it is essential to reach an even broader audience in spreading the knowledge of evidence-based nutrition education.

Meredith: As a retail dietitian we are often in the public eye. They see us on social media, in print ads and out in the community. What they don’t always see is our work in the corporate office. I have been with my retailer for over 13 years. During those years, it was important for me to take time to understand my retailer and the industry. I work closely with our category buyers when building promotions and developing planograms. I attend trade shows with my team to look for items that would be a good fit for our guests. I am very comfortable in our warehouse, visit our stores regularly and have a seat at the table when discussing new team projects. I have learned that once you show your value, you will always be invited back for that seat!

Emily: I think the biggest thing that may surprise people about working in retail as a Nutritionist or Dietitian is that the team size is often very small and sometimes there may only be one Nutritionist or Dietitian responsible for nutrition for the whole retailer. Therefore, being agile is very important when working in retail, as one moment you might be working with a product developer to reduce the salt content of a product and the next you might be delivering a workplace wellbeing session, or even analyzing the nutrition of recipes for the retailer’s magazine.

Yvette: In short, definitely! There are a few different areas of focus when it comes to retail dietetics, there are corporate level, regional, and in-store retail RDN programs. Each retailer runs them very differently, whether under marketing, pharmacy, merchandising, or even operations. For myself, I work on the corporate level, so do not do much for 1:1 nutrition consulting anymore. My day-to-day is a mixed array of meetings with a focus on managing chain-wide nutrition health and wellness campaigns and programs to help shoppers easily identify healthier options, outreaching to local community partners and collaborating on ways to increase awareness of healthful food options and nutrition services available at the local grocery store, marketing and promotional planning to feature healthier products, writing and editing nutrition content, using social media and other digital networks to target customers with health messaging, manage employee wellness programs, and working with food companies to feature brands in health-focused campaigns and programs.

What are some of the most exciting things happening in food retail today?

Mary: One of the most exciting things that I see in food retail is the variety of products available for consumers with dietary preferences. Manufacturers are creating products to fit the needs of consumers and are listening to their interests. From vegan and plant-based alternatives, to lower sugar/no sugar added products, there are so many options out there. This empowers consumers to make the best decision for their journey of health. And as a retail dietitian, it excites me that I can help guide customers to find a product that supports their health.

Meredith: Just about everything! And that is what I love about food and retail. As much as the pandemic really threw us a curve ball, it allowed retailers to prove to themselves (and others) how well we can pivot. I think we have always known this, but this really held our feet to the fire. For Redner’s, a 44-store chain, independent grocer in the Northeast, we had many projects on the table such as online ordering, drive-up services, and a new central kitchen; but they all were in the “future.” When the pandemic came, we had to work hard to meet the ever-changing needs of our guests to keep them fed and do it safely, so these BIG projects were completed in warp speed and have proven to be big winners for us. In addition to operations, food innovation is always on my radar. Even with the current obstacles we face with manufacturing and production, our vendor partners are still able to create and innovate which allows us to deliver the best of the best to our guests.

Yvette: There are a combination of in-store activations, omnichannel tactics, and social media/digital integrations that Health & Wellness has been able to tap into in various capacities among retailers around the U.S. I would say a lot of the exciting things happening would include:

  • Cross-merchandising and meal solutions for customers, transparency and educational signage executed in the marketing, and more healthful food and beverage offerings that are coming to the market every day – the innovations have been so fun and fantastic to learn about and bring to our customers.
  • Online, there have been some exciting shopper marketing efforts that are controlled or managed by retail Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RND), shoppable recipe collections, and curated assortments that are hand chosen by RDNs, to help you feel confident with your food choices.
  • It is also just exciting to see the amount of free or discounted offerings of RDN services in the retail landscape, whether it is one on one consultations, guided store tours, classes and workshops, recipe demoing, community partner collaborations with public health and schools. . . the list goes on!

What are some of your favorite resources that you can share with the Eat Well Connect community to learn more about food retail? 

Mary: I absolutely love the resources provided by the Retail Dietitians Business Alliance, it helps me to stay relevant and up-to-date!

Emily: Food Matters Careers is a great source for learning more about careers in the food industry, including retail. Their website includes lots of useful resources such as articles and a podcast. They have also hosted career events where Nutritionists and Dietitians working in the food industry are invited along to discuss their roles. Additionally, many retailers also offer graduate placements, so keep an eye out for job descriptions where you can see what the responsibilities might include and what skills you will need.

Yvette: Retail Dietitian Business Alliance (RDBA) is a fantastic resource with a focus on retail dietetics. And I would just suggest hopping onto your favorite grocery retailer’s website and exploring their Health and Wellness platform (if they have one). A few examples of some strong programs would include: Raley’s, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Kroger Health Clinic, Schnucks, Wegman’s, Giant Foods, Hannaford, Stop & Shop, ShopRite, SpartanNash, Coborn’s, Big Y Foods, Food City, etc… the list goes on!