Retail Dietitians: The Secret Ingredient for Healthy Retail

January 24, 2013

From the first issue of recently launched site, RDBA Weekly (Retail Dietitians Business Alliance), here's an interview with Judy Dodd, Healthy Living Advisor for Giant Eagle.

Originally published on the recently launched site, RDBA Weekly (Retail Dietitians Business Alliance). Click here for more info. 

Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in registered dietitians working for retailers. Judy Dodd, MS, RD, LDN, FADA, has been the Healthy Living Advisor for Giant Eagle for 20 years and is a member of the Retail Dietitians Business Alliance (RDBA) Advisory Board. We asked Judy a few questions to help shed some light on the retail registered dietitian (RD) landscape—where it’s been and where it is today.

Although there has been a recent surge in retailers hiring RDs, this isn’t a new concept. Can you provide a historical perspective based on your experience?

In the beginnings of the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program (the late 1960’s) RDs worked with supermarkets in Pittsburgh. I was the Nutrition Education Outreach person for our County program and we had a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to conduct store tours, a kiosk program in Giant Eagle stores with a large WIC population, and we also participated in health fairs and demos. This continued through the 1970’s. Although the Health Department nutrition staff never worked "for" Giant Eagle, the collaboration between Health Department and Giant Eagle staff was a forerunner that reached beyond the WIC program. 

During the same time period, a new supermarket in our area hired both home economists and an RD for in-store events, however it never went past the grand opening. In the late 1990’s, there was movement again with several chains in the Pittsburgh area hiring RDs to staff their “Ask the RD” hotline. Overall, RDs or Home Economists have been a part of supermarket in Pittsburgh for my entire working career, but the biggest boosts have come in the last 10 years.

How has your role and Giant Eagle’s RD program evolved over the years?

I joined Giant Eagle as a part-time consultant 20 years ago and was responsible for covering all stores in three states. Until then, Giant Eagle had a staff of home economists but no RD. They were starting a nutrition and health outreach program and felt they needed an RD. Early on, we had touch screens in about 100 of our stores with menus including recipes with adaptations for diabetes, weight loss, allergies, etc.  Great program, but the customers weren't in to "touch screens.” I then began working with Pharmacy and Marketing and did a lot of media, writing as well as special events.  We were able to survive until the decision was made to build an RD staff...and the rest is history. Giant Eagle now has over 30 RDs on staff.

What forces or motivations contributed to the retail industry's more recent drive to bring registered dietitians on board?

There are many factors at play, but supermarket health and nutrition initiatives are at the heart of the surge. Some states have licensure laws, which require credentialed professionals to provide nutrition education or counsel. The rise in diagnosis of food-related health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, food allergies and intolerances are best addressed by a credentialed nutrition professional, such as an RD, with food knowledge and skills. Also, there are opportunities for partnerships with pharmacy related to Diabetes reimbursement. And childhood-rooted weight issues cast a new perspective on marketing to children, shifting the focus to health. Although food is the business, health is a point of difference and a community goal.

Judy Dodd is a registered dietitian, and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Academically, her degrees are from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. Along with teaching at the university level, she is a consultant on child nutrition issues and Food and Nutrition Advisor to Giant Eagle, Inc. Active in her community and in her profession, she is a past president of the American Dietetic Association, a volunteer leader and spokesperson for the local affiliate of the American Heart Association.