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1574R-010764Increasing numbers of supermarkets now feature a new type of employee who floats among aisles, offering advice and suggestions for shoppers. By keeping a registered dietician on staff, various grocery chains seek to meet their customers’ demands for more information about healthy choices, as well as expand their roles in their customers’ lives.

Dieticians have long been members of grocery store corporations, but usually they sat in corporate offices and informed executives on product decisions. Moving down the supply chain and into stores, today’s dietician staff advise consumers directly about the products they see on the shelves of their local store. A parent whose child suffers severe food allergies can ask about safe options. A consumer struggling with weight can learn about the best options for reducing calories and fat. And environmentally conscious buyers can determine the difference between “all-natural” and “organic” (the former claim is unregulated; the latter means the product has passed a series of stringent tests).

The Food Marketing Institute recently determined that about Costco Successionone-third of grocery store chains—including Hy-Vee, Safeway, and Wegmans—have added dieticians at the retail level, whereas 86 percent keep one on staff at the corporate level. In addition, predictions suggest that the number of retail dieticians will double in coming years.

Much of the advice dieticians offer to shoppers in stores is free, though some stores also offer more extensive consultations for a fee. Furthermore, the stores use their recommendations to promote certain products as “dieticians’ picks,” highlighted by shelf signs and promotions.

Raspberries, blueberries and cape gooseberriesFor example, Safeway’s new “Simple Nutrition” program highlights 22 separate potential health benefits associated with the various products on its shelves. A third-party organization also has established a NuVal ranking system that assigns each product a nutrition value score, from 1–100. The scores reflect more than 30 criteria, such as cholesterol, sugar, and sodium levels, as well as the amount of calcium or protein provided.

Source: E.J. Schultz, “The Next Big Weapon for Supermarkets—The Dietician,” Advertising Age, April 15, 2013