From your experience, what are some merchandising (and cross merchandising) best practices that can be used for healthier items?
First of all, I think it is extremely important that dietitians become comfortable approaching their teammates in the merchandising departments. Earning the trust and partnership of the merchandising team is the first step to success in executing better-for-you displays and programs in store. Merchandisers need to trust us, and know that we understand that their role is to move product off the shelves. Therefore, retail dietitians need to do their homework on sales volume and movement within brands of interest in order to make reasonable projections on what a potential program might generate. When buyers and merchandisers understand that we are trying to partner with them, not just make an end cap out of all of the foods that sell less than one case per store per year, they become much more receptive to trying new programs that feature healthier and other better-for-you items.
Also, I think it is important that healthier items being featured are tied to a specific theme that is being promoted by your retailer, whether it be health-related or seasonal, to maximize relevance, exposure and interest in the product. For example, August is typically the month that is focused on ‘back-to-school’ marketing in retail, so when selecting items with merchandising for promotion during August, make sure that your selections are consistent with products that would be appealing to kids, easy to pack for school, and of course better choices.
What are some good resources for retail dietitians to learn more about cross merchandising?
It would be great if there was a text book we could all learn from on this topic, but unfortunately I think we all know that is not the case. Since all retailers are so different, I think it is important that retail dietitians become very visible to all of the merchandising departments – from fresh to frozen to center store – and observe and learn as much as possible. As you become more visible and more familiar with the practices of all of these different departments, it becomes easier to generate solutions for planning nutrition-related promotions that co-exist, if not blend, with the promotions of the other departments.
In your experience, what is the planning cycle for merchandising changes?
This varies by retailer, but in my experience planning occurs in advance by at least two to three months.
How can retail dietitians partner within their companies to promote better-for-you products in promotional space?
It is important to be aligned with your retailer’s marketing and promotional calendar, and work with manufacturers and CPGs accordingly. Understand how your retailer functions – are you an ‘everyday low price’ model, or a ‘high-low’ model? Use that knowledge to work with relevant manufacturers during their promotional cycles, when you’ll be most likely to gain interest and trial from shoppers, as well as more likely to reserve messaging space in circular ads or other marketing/advertising mediums.
Why is cross merchandising important, especially for healthier items?
Cross merchandising is a great way to showcase how items pair with one another. It is also a great way to expose shoppers to new healthier products that they may not see on shelf in-aisle. Special promotional displays, meal solution groupings, or end-caps are an excellent way to highlight new and exciting healthier items
What are some best practices for getting buy-in from other departments?
Become known as the creative one, the one who brings solutions to potential problems or confounding situations. We all know that silos can be an issue in retail, but the great thing about being a dietitian is that we can have a relationship with almost all departments. And being outside of that silo is a great place to be, as we can often find solutions to problems that perhaps the retailer hasn’t considered before. The key to buy-in is to gain trust, and demonstrating your flexibility and creativity in this environment will help make your talents indispensable to your organization.
Are there any merchandising trends and innovation that retail dietitians should know about?
Lifestyle attributes, such as Gluten Free, Organic and Non-GMO, are very hot among shoppers these days. Retail dietitians should stay up to date on what is happening in the regulatory world around the labeling of these items, as well as fully understanding the implications of these attributes in order to be able to craft meaningful and accurate nutrition-related communications.
Monica Amburn, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian/nutritionist with a passion for creative wellness education and communications. Monica’s experience in clinical nutrition, weight loss counseling, and as a corporate supermarket dietitian has allowed her the privilege of leading thousands of people towards healthier lifestyles and personal goal achievements. Monica is the Senior Director of Health & Wellness with Vestcom International, Inc., the leading provider of shelf-edge nutrition communication solutions to thousands of supermarkets nationwide.