How Retail Dietitians Can Help You

mother and child talking to a grocery store clerk

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Food shopping can be so confusing—what are the best ingredients to buy, what can you eat if you have a medical condition like diabetes, what foods should you consume if you are looking to lose weight? And how can you put all of the ingredients together to make a quick, healthy meal? Wouldn't it be nice if you could have a trained professional guiding you while you shop?

Dietitians have commanded their knowledge and are becoming more available to the consumer by being part of the shopping experience. Retail dietitians, both corporate and in-house at the actual supermarket, can provide customers with a wealth of information and tools to make purchases that optimize their health and suit their lifestyle.

Growth in the Industry

The growth of retail dietitians has been tremendous and continuous. Since 2012, the professional group Retail Dietitian Business Alliance (RDBA) has increased exponentially from about 400 members to over 2,000 throughout the U.S. and Canada. Because registered dietitians are not necessarily trained in business or corporate marketing, the RBDA is valuable in developing these skills.

The RDBA supports the role of retail dietitians by offering retail business education programs to help RDs better understand the business of retail, including trends, merchandising, working with suppliers, and more. They offer education online and in person at key events. In addition, they offer opportunities through newsletters, their website, and special events where the community can share information with each other.

What Do Retail Dietitians Do? 

Retail dietitians can serve as a liaison between retailers and consumers. Their role is fundamental in providing education to both companies and customers on a variety of nutrition-related issues, such as healthy and balanced eating, food safety, meal planning, recipe development, social media and web content, food trends, product development, food safety, and so much more. If you happen to meet a dietitian in a supermarket, you may find them: 

  • Promoting healthy products
  • Providing customer service by recommending individualized products
  • Conducting cooking demonstrations
  • Offering food samples and tastings
  • Making healthier choices more affordable
  • Teaching basic culinary skills
  • Taking customers on a grocery shopping tour
  • Helping customers read labels and find the products they need
  • Creating recipes and modifying recipes to make them healthier 
  • Educating employees and customers on food safety
  • Exposing customers to new foods by offering samples
  • Providing shopping lists and menus for specific health concerns, such as diabetes or hypertension
  • Hosting events in the store that promote health and wellness

In addition, retail dietitians are paving the way by developing healthy eating and health management programs. In some stores, they are even using their clinical skills counseling patients in-store health clinics.

In fact, one of the largest grocery retailers in the United States, The Kroger Co., launched an in-store health clinic called the Little Clinic. Established in 2003, the Little Clinic is using dietitians as an integral part of their team to help people meet their health and nutrition goals.

What Is the Little Clinic?

The Little Clinic is a medical clinic located inside Kroger grocery stores where nurse practitioners and physician assistants treat and diagnose patients. The goal of the clinic is to help busy people receive quality care. With more than 200 clinics in select stores, dietitians are currently available in four Little Clinic markets in the United States: Nashville, Columbus and Cincinnati (Ohio), and Denver. Each clinic is located next to the pharmacy and has comfortable exam rooms and waiting areas.

Dietitians are critical team members, providing patient-centered, individualized clinical nutrition counseling either during one-on-one sessions or in groups right in the store. After the customer is referred, the dietitian will meet with the customer as they would in any clinic setting. During the beginning of their initial visit, the dietitian will get nutrition history and goals. The second half of the visit is the most well-received, as patients are able to walk side-by-side with their dietitian, through all of the aisles, and shop, putting their knowledge to use while continuing to receive education on which products are best for them and their goals.

Group sessions vary—they may take form as a supermarket tour, a cooking class, or a walking class. Supermarket tours can be condition oriented, whether for obesity, type 2 diabetes, or celiac disease. Tours can also help patients focus on a specific way of eating. A topic, for example, can be "How to Eat a Plant Based Diet." Walking classes are focused on diabetes, family meals, and heart health. It's a wonderful way to engage shoppers while getting them to move and encourage them to eat healthier foods.

In addition to counseling, dietitians participate and host wellness festivals and promote worksite wellness by conducting associate contests and promotions to encourage employees to take care of their health as well. They may also contribute regularly to blogs and affiliate websites. Lastly, registered dietitians collect and analyze data, establishing which products customers are loyal to and where they like to spend their resources. It's a win-win: the store can increase profits and the customers are happy and satisfied. All the while, they are making stride towards getting healthier.

A Look Into the Future

The Little Clinic touts itself on being at the forefront of preventive care and takes pride in helping patients take control of their health before the disease can take root and become even more problematic. The marriage of a clinical program in a retail setting can help patients use their nutrition knowledge and put it into practice in real time by making healthy, simple, food choices.

While the program currently receives reimbursement from Medicare beneficiaries, it is exploring how to expand with payers and employer to be able to offer more widespread services in the future.

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