Breaking into Retail

Breaking into Retail

March 4, 2013
Career Development

By Annette Maggi, MS, RD, LD, FADA

In my dual role as Supermarket Subgroup Chair for the Food and Culinary Professionals (FCP) Dietetic Practice Group (DPG) and Executive Director of RDBA, I often hear from registered dietitians (RDs) looking to work in the retail industry.  They're interested in transferring their expertise and experience into this rapidly expanding career area.  If you're one of these dietitians, consider these tips to make your next career move in the retail industry:

  • Track the Industry.  There are some retail companies, like Hy-Vee, which have a dietitian in every store and others, like H-E-B, that are expanding the number of RDs within their organizations.  If you're not tied to a specific geographic location, follow these retailers' job postings and explore working for them.
  • Know Your Market.  If relocation is not an option, research the retailers in your market.  Do they currently have dietitians on staff or offer health services to their shoppers?  Are there pharmacy departments in their stores?  Is there a point-of-purchase nutrition program in their stores or nutrition guidance on their website?  Do they have a deli or sell ready-to-eat options?  What is the demographic of their target audience?  In addition to this type of information, it’s also important to research the company structure.  For example, if they are an independent store, decisions can be made at the local level.  In large chains, decisions may be made at the headquarters location.  All these factors can impact how you might break in with a retailer in your area.
  • Be a Salesperson.  While there are now close to 500 RDs who work for retailers and many more who consult for retailers, the concept of health promotion in the grocery store is still relatively new and is continuously evolving.  For this reason, you need to be prepared to pitch the retailer on the benefit to them in offering nutrition services.  Speak less about who you are and what you do, and more about the value proposition—how offering nutrition services can benefit the company's business.
  • Master LinkedIn.  Pursuing a career in the retail industry is unlikely to follow a traditional hiring path.  You’ll need to get your ideas in front of key positions within the retailer and pitch them on your ideas.  On LinkedIn, find staff at the retailer with titles including merchandising, marketing, or communications.  In some retailers, including Target, dietitians work within the owned brands divisions.  Connect with these types of professionals at your target retailer and then work to set up meetings directly with them. 
  • Think Like a Business Person.  As the industry is evolving, and depending on the size of the retailer, you may need to be willing to work as a consultant for some time before the company sees the benefit nutrition services may bring to them.  Walking in the door to meeting with retailers, ensure you have options clearly outlined, defining what a starting point would look like and how the program could build.  Include timing and action.  Never offer services for free.  Ensure you are covering all your time and costs in pitching a consultant role.  If there is a full time opportunity available, ensure you’ve done your homework and are getting a salary consistent with other roles in the company with similar responsibilities.

It may take some time and effort to break into a career in the retail industry, but with the variety of responsibilities and the room for growth, these positions are well worth pursuing.  

Annette Maggi, MS, RD, LD, FADA is the Executive Director of the Retail Dietitians Business Alliance (RDBA) and is President of Annette Maggi & Associates, Inc. (www.annettemaggi.com), a strategic nutrition marketing and communications consulting firm specializing in the interface between food manufacturers and retail grocers, and nutrition and regulatory issues. 

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