Supermarket Dietitians Have “Power to Make a Serious Impact”

Supermarket Dietitians Have "Power to Make a Serious Impact" -For supermarket-employed dietitians, the Oldways Symposium in Scottsdale, AZ, this past week was a thrilling combination of networking, education and inspiration. It was incredible to see the sheer number of dietitians passionately united together on a mission to change shopper behavior and health.

Barbara Ruhs, MS, RD, instrumental in creating and executing the Oldways event, likened the symposium to the Super Bowl. “The retailer holds the arena,” says Barbara, and the game is exciting. In the midst of a public health crisis, with the top four leading causes of death related to diet, Barbara reminded everyone that “we have the power to make a serious impact.” In our joint efforts to “reach millions,” we can all work together to positively shift population health.

One of the symposium’s most interesting presentations came to us from two Department of Marketing professors from New Mexico State University, Dr. Collin Payne and Dr. Mihai Niculescu. They spoke about specific research they have conducted in the supermarket. Payne and Niculescu outlined the goals of shopper marketing for the supermarket dietitian to include: improving nutrition, keeping the shopper budget consistent and keeping store profitability consistent. They decided that helping shoppers increase their fruit and vegetable purchasing would accomplish all three goals. If you think about it, this would also help debunk the idea that healthy eating is more expensive. How cool if both shopper budget and store profitability could be held constant, while consumers actually purchased more fruits and vegetables.

So what did they do to test this out? Three neat “tricks” right in the supermarket:

1. The “half cart” trick. Their first study used shopping carts divided into two compartments, one labeled for fruits and vegetables and one for everything else. “We found a 102 percent increase in people buying fruits and vegetables,” states Dr. Payne, “without showing a decrease in supermarket profitability.” He also noted a decrease in sweet and salty snacks and everything else.  There was no difference in total purchase (shopper budget remained consistent).

2. The directional arrow trick. Consumers pointed to produce by arrows on the floor led to a 10 percent increase in produce sales with no difference in total purchase. Keep in mind that 50 percent of consumer purchases are planned and 50 percent are unplanned wants and forgotten needs. Even the well-prepared consumer comes to the supermarket and experiences a multitude of unexpected distractions. In this case, the arrows helped them focus.

3. The established norm trick. The average number of produce items typically purchased by a customer was stated with a sign in the cart accompanied by a smiley face thumbs up emoticon. Again, the researchers saw a 10 percent increase in produce sales with no difference in total purchase.

This is certainly intriguing for those of us in the supermarket. What if we could increase self-awareness and gently persuade customers (mindlessly) toward healthier, better choices? Wow, this is big.

As registered dietitians in the supermarket, our approaches might all differ, but in the end, our nutrition and health messages are similar. Collectively, we have the power to reach millions.

This Stone Soup contribution is identified as a #PromoPost because copies of Food & Nutrition Magazine were distributed at the Oldways Supermarket RD Symposium, April 2-4, 2014, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Read more about Food & Nutrition’s editorial policy and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s disclosure guidelines.

Krystal Register, MS, RD, LDN
Krystal Register, MS, RD, LDN, has served as Wegmans Nutritionist for the Virginia and Maryland market since 2008. Krystal is passionate about encouraging folks to enjoy food and stay active. She takes advantage of motivational teaching moments with employees and customers in the aisles, in media interviews and at community events.