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Educating your food experts

When you go to the hairdresser, you want them to be an expert in hair; the hardware store, an expert in tools and paint; and of course, at the grocer, an expert in food.

Customers are becoming increasingly inquisitive and expect informed answers about whether the broccoli is local, the fish is sustainably harvested or whether a cereal contains genetically-modified ingredients. They are demanding that your staff be food experts in their lives.

As a retail dietitian especially, it is key to be informed in all of these departments and be continually searching for information on foods and products and passing that education along to our staff, customers and other health educators.

Well the best educational opportunity currently available to the retail dietitian is the Oldways Symposium, in its 5th year of gathering retail dietitians, vendors and other food-related organizations. At last month’s event, the Canadian representation grew with Loblaws, Sobeys, Thriftys’, Fresh St, Save-On and Choices Markets dietitians attending and networking with retail dietitians from 40 different U.S. supermarkets and even the U.K. and Israel.

Twenty to thirty minute sessions jam-packed over two days gives opportunity to learn from every vendor and food organization present as well as other researchers and retail experts. This year we learned about the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines and specifically, the cholesterol recommendations and the changing tune on eggs and cheese from research dietitian, Dr. Jim Painter.  And the overall theme of the conference was Healthy Plate Healthy Planet, with a focus on sustainability and a presentation by America’s Green Nutritionist, Kate Geagan, RD.

Speed networking and casual conversation over delicious and nutritious food with samples of many vendor recipes, allows the dietitians to share what’s happening at their retailer, from cooking classes to media success stories, sampling programs to flyer and display spotlights.

Dietitians take away partnerships, resources and inspiration on how to better connect with and inform consumers. They also gain mentorship in a relatively novel sphere of the nutrition profession—like how to communicate with a potentially large team across many states or provinces or how to provide ROI to profit-centre focused management.

Dietitian services are most often perceived as a cost-centre to a retailer because the effect of the dietitians’ services on the bottom line are sometimes more qualitative or hard to track, like a customer’s loyalty after a nutrition tour or their return purchases once they understand the benefit of that item to their health.

However, every retailer knows that customer service is the best feature they can offer to inch above the competition and staff that are informed and eager to pass along education provide some of the best service in our current food environment.

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