According to the CDC, 35% of Americans are considered obese. A new report by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine speculates that number will rise to 42% by the year 2030. With this increase in health care costs and chronic disease, your dietitian may become a very important part of your health care plan. Why wait that long when you can have easy access to a Registered Dietitian at your neighborhood supermarket?
As a former supermarket dietitian, I know first hand how important this job is. A dietitian that has direct contact with people at point of purchase is a powerful tool. This is evidenced in a new study coming out in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. Participants increased their purchases of more healthful items and fruit and vegetables when in person education was used. Martha Nepper, MS, RD, LMNT, CDE, knows full well the impact her presence makes in a grocery store. She has an in-store supermarket dietitian for Hy-Vee since 2006, educating consumers on making better choices and inspiring them live healthier lives. Hy-Vee is the only grocery chain in the nation to have a mission of having a dietitian in every store. Their dynamic team of Registered Dietitians are helping countless customers with their health and nutrition issues. I thought this would be a great opportunity for you to find out more about what a supermarket dietitian does and the types of services they offer. Would you see a dietitian in a supermarket? Do you know if your neighborhood supermarket has a Registered Dietitian? Let’s talk to Martha and find out a little more about what she does.
What excites you the most about working for a supermarket?
What excites me the most about working in a supermarket is seeing the new products on the shelf that will enhance a person’s health. There are almost 45,000 products in the store, and new products are coming out often.
What health concerns do you think shoppers are the most confused about?
I would definitely say food allergies (gluten-free, lactose-intolerance, and other food allergies). Reading the ingredient label can be tricky for someone who has to avoid a certain product (ex: gluten, soy or corn). I sometimes may get a person in the supermarket who is shopping for gluten-free products, because they heard it helps with weight loss or “someone else is doing this, and I thought I would try it”.
On a scale of 1-10, how important would you rate marketing on packaging? Are you customers confused about it?
I would say a “5”. I have noticed that customers are confused by both the marketing and the labels. Ex: If a customer is trying to eat and shop healthier, they may choose products just based on what it says on the outside labels. Yet, they may have been better off looking at the Nutrition Facts to see if, for example, the product is a good source of fiber or calcium. Often times, customers will avoid milk and milk products because the Nutrition Facts labels says a certain number of grams of sugar, and are unaware of the fact that this is a natural source of sugar (lactose). I do find customers that will buy their favorite products based on their taste and preference, without any concerns with health. I strive to tell my clients that all food can fit in a healthy diet.
In your experiences w/consumers, what do you think their barriers to shopping/eating healthier & what have you found most effective in educating them?
I find that consumers will repeatedly tell me that eating healthy is expensive. They will avoid the lean meats, fresh fruits/vegetables or dairy products because they feel that they can’t afford it. Also, I find that one of the biggest barriers to eating healthy is time. Often, a person will go through a fast-food drive-through, rather than stocking up on easy & quick meal ingredients for the home. I educate my clients and customers on the importance of meal planning, how to shop for foods and ingredients that can help them with easy meals, give them quick & easy recipes to try at home and reassure them that eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. I have held budget shopping classes that will educate customers on how to save money in the grocery store and purchase nutrient-rich foods more often.
What type of services do you offer at the store?
I offer individual nutrition counseling for a variety of health issues. Mainly, I specialize in weight management for all ages and diabetes management. I conduct classes on a variety of topics, including cooking classes, 12 week weight loss classes, healthy eating for teens, budget shopping and gluten-free eating. Currently, I am holding an “Eat & Read” book club, where we will read a fiction or non-fiction book each month, and I will prepare a recipe that relates to the book. I also give nutrition presentations to businesses, church groups and schools. Grocery store tours are very popular and an effective way to teach about nutrition in the aisle.
Do you have a favorite success story with a shopper you would like to share?
I have helped many gluten-free customers, but one lady in particular comes to mind. When her and her husband came in to see me, she was very underweight and malnourished. She has just been recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease and was anxious about what foods to eat that would make her feel better. Several months later, I conducted a gluten-free cooking class and taste testing in the store, and she came up to me to thank me for helping her. I didn’t recognize her at all! She had gained at least 20#, had color in her cheeks, felt energetic and was an entirely different person than went I first met her. Following a gluten-free diet in response to her diagnosis of Celiac Disease changed her life.
Are there any new products you are excited about?
One in particular is Roland Quinoa Black Bean. It is ready in 15 minutes and is easy to make and nutritious. A perfect side dish or a main meal, and I have added more black beans and walnuts to enhance the nutritional value. Also, even though these products are not “new”, I really like “Bob’s Red Mill” products. There are a variety of products, such as gluten-free, 10 Grain Hot Cereal and many more, which are easy to make and a terrific source of fiber.
What are your favorite fruits and veggies for spring?
I enjoy a dark green lettuce salad, with a variety of toppings, such as nuts, dried fruit, beans, cucumbers, and carrots with a light Raspberry Vinaigrette dressing. I always love blueberries and strawberries in the springtime and add them to my yogurt every morning.
How important is your retailer’s vision & support in your everyday tasks in reaching customers?
Hy-Vee has made their mission statement “Helping you Live Easier, Healthier & Happier”, which is well-known in the Midwest. By having a Registered Dietitian in every store, they have made a commitment to ensure that their community and their employees are healthier. There are three corporate Registered Dietitians and a Vice President of Health & Wellness that oversees the operations of the Dietitian program. They provide input and support, with materials, e-mails, meetings and exciting promotions that will help our customers live healthier.
Does your store use a Nutrition Guidance System? How has this impacted your customers?
Hy-Vee has the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System, which scores the food from 1 to 100 based on its nutritional value. For detailed information on the scoring system, visit http://www.nuval.com. It has made a huge impact on customer’s food choices. NuVal is an easy system to use and customers know that if they choose the food product, within a category (such a yogurt), that has the highest score, then they are getting a food that is nutrient-rich.
Martha Nepper, MS, RD, LMNT, CDE
Martha has been a Registered Dietitian in the Omaha, Nebraska area since 1994. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Dietetics, completed a dietetic internship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and holds a Master of Science degree in Health Education from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She has recently been accepted into the doctorate program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Department of Community Nutrition & Health Promotion and will start work on her PhD in the Fall of 2012, and plans to do research on grocery store purchases and the prevention of obesity. Martha is a Certified Diabetes Educator and is certified in Adult & Pediatric Weight Management. She is the owner of Fruity Advice, a blog and website (www.fruityadvice.com/wordpress) that inspires everyone to eat and shop healthier. Martha has been with Hy-Vee since 2006 and enjoys the aspect of teaching customers to achieve a healthier lifestyle in a grocery store setting. She is also a wife and mother of 4 children (16-year-old boy, 14-year-old twin girls, and a 11-year-old boy). Martha and her husband enjoy sailing on their Hunter 23.5 sailboat at Branched Oak Lake in Lincoln, Nebraska, exercising, trying new recipes, watching her boys play ice hockey and being a Girl Scout co-leader for her twin girls’ troop.
Images via Bigstock & Martha Nepper.