By Amanda Rhubizhevsky, MPH
Food prices continue to rise; especially poultry, beef and other animal proteins. As a retail dietitian, the opportunity here is huge and it’s your duty to help customers eat healthy meals at an exceptional value, regardless of food prices. One of the biggest challenges is overcoming the claims that it just costs too much to eat healthy, especially produce.
Back to basics. What should you focus on? The first step is to help define a “healthy diet.” Some of the key words are: variety, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. In other words, a healthy diet is composed of the wholesome, simple foods. Directing consumers to selecting healthier foods, rather than focusing on individual nutrients, is the easiest way to guide healthier eating. Terms like “organic” and “natural” become optional in the basic healthy diet equation, making selection of these foods a personal choice – not a health necessity.
What are some ways you can get creative and help shoppers save money while eating healthy?
Produce. As a retail dietitian, encouraging customers to purchase (and eat) more produce is two-fold. First, there is no other dietary recommendation that has the potential to improve overall health more than getting shoppers to eat more produce. Second, from a retail business perspective, produce departments have a huge profit potential. Show shoppers what’s in season – this is the freshest and least expensive time of the year to enjoy. Another trick is to help shoppers set limits on the price per pound they will spend on produce. For example, not buying any fresh produce that exceeds $1.80 per pound.
Don’t forget that if fresh still is not a wallet friendly option, you can direct shoppers to the nutrient dense frozen vegetables and fruit. Don’t overlook salt added canned items as well.
What about protein? Meats, poultry and seafood can be the most costly grocery purchases. Emphasize less expensive, high quality protein foods such as canned tuna, canned beans, eggs, milk and yogurt, and even nut butters to help cut the grocery bill. Also, encourage shoppers to check the freezer aisles for frozen cuts of meat, and fish – these are often less expensive (and fresher) than the “previously” frozen cuts featured in the meat or seafood case.
Store Brands. Buying store brands offers significant savings. According to Consumer Reports, shoppers can save from 15 to 50 percent on groceries by switching to store brands or value brands.
In-Store Nutrition Education. According to some industry reports, an estimated 70 percent of purchase decisions are made in the store. This can even be done over the in store radio. Providing regular airtime for dietitians to infuse the in-store airways with helpful nutrition tips and advice for shopping and meal preparation can make an impact on shopping behavior.
Plan and Shop. Another effective way to help shoppers save money is to plan weekly seasonal menus, provide a shopping list and coupons based on the menu. (Use store brands as well!) Work with your retailer to offer menu planning and recipe resources, if this is not already in place.
Supermarket Tours: Dietitian-led supermarket tours are a great way to increase knowledge and trial of produce items and healthier center store picks. A considerable amount of time can be spent in the produce department orienting customers to the range of nutritional quality and versatility of different produce items.
Store Signage: Produce signage is an easy way to highlight healthy, wallet friendly nutritional attributes on a consistent basis. Providing tips on how to include produce items easily into a lunchbox or easy snack choices, as well as meals can inspire customers to buy more than their typical routine banana and apple purchases.
Weekly Sales Circular: In addition to price and item promotions, dietitians can highlight the nutritional benefits of existing produce items in the weekly ad. Simple, short nutrition blurbs alongside produce items can help boost awareness (and sales). I.e., calling out that avocados are a “healthy source of fat” or a great option for a “nutritious baby food,” are easy to do in a limited space.
Technology. Retailers who adopt new technologies to reach consumers will always be ahead of the curve. Nielsen data indicates that 50+ percent of consumers are using some form of technology in regards to grocery shopping. Some customers are viewing circulars online, others are downloading coupons from websites and a growing percentage are using smartphones to download free or low-cost tools to improve shopping needs (they make lists, compare prices, find nutrition facts, use store apps, etc.). There are a number of ways in which supermarket dietitians are using technology to promote produce, from Blogs to YouTube videos, and social media. The best part is that consumers can access this information anytime and at their own convenience.