Wakefern/ShopRite uses chef-led cooking classes, dietitian consults, and retail foodservice to become known for “caring deeply about people, and helping them to eat well and be happy,” said Melanie Dwornik, dietitian and culinary nutrition supervisor, in her presentation at the National Restaurant Association’s Food Service @ Retail Conference held in Chicago on May 23, Inspiring Your Customers’ Culinary Palates Through Culinary Nutrition.
Wakefern, the largest food retailer in the New York metro area has increasingly looked for ways to weds culinary with health and wellness programs so customers can experience new flavors, eat to be fit and healthy, improve their cooking, and commit to one more family meal a week together at home.
Up from one retail dietitian in 2006, the co-op now has dietitians servicing more than more than 130 stores. “They distinguish nutrition fact from fiction for customers. They act as the health concierge, taking people up and down the aisles to find the items and prepared foods that meet their specific needs,” Dwornik stated. “They connect with customers, answering questions such as: What’s for dinner tonight? What kind of healthy recipe can I find? How do I prepare a meal for my child with a food allergy? What can I make my husband, who was just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?”
Wakefern/ShopRite is “going a step further with chefs, connecting them to consumers in a similar way through hands-on cooking classes, and layering this culinary experience with the dietitian programming,” explained Dwornik.
One of the reasons for Wakefern’s emphasis on culinary cooking classes is to fill a vast generational gap of Millennials who don’t know how to cook, but visit restaurants and engage with The Food Network. “We educate consumers by leveraging our in-store chefs and health and wellness programming, as part of our Family Meal campaign launched last autumn,” said Dwornik. “It’s a natural tie-in because there is so much research to support the family meal. Children get better grades in school, they make better food choices, maintain healthier weights, and are less likely to do drugs.”
The weekly culinary workshop classes with chefs are for adults and children, to inspire confidence in the kitchen at home. The chain aims to “weave this culinary inspiration into everything we do in health and wellness,” said Dwornik. “We provide the culinary how-to’s to nudge them to have more meals with the family. That could mean planning on Monday, then shopping, and stopping at the grocerant afterward to eat.”
Digital outreach –such as instructional videos and e-newsletters - helps generate trips and engage shoppers. In the stores is where chefs “introduce customers to new flavors, cooking techniques, unique foods and items we’re selling, and bringing those dietitian recommendations to life, showing them it can be easy,” Dwornik stated. “The opportunity here is giving shoppers an experience with chefs and dietitians so they want to come back for more.”
Product demos, currently in test, bring chefs out from behind the counter to engagingly show customers how easy some cooking with a few simple ingredients can be – and show off their personality and begin to form relationships at the same time. “We saw lift in all the stores. Many items sold out during demos, and we had repeat purchases in the weeks that followed. We’ll continue to test,” she added.
It is in the culinary classes, however, where customers are exposed to more daring flavors. “Of course, we prime them to buy these items in our foodservice area,” said Dwornik, noting a few of her favorite class themes - Moroccan Magic, A Taste of India, and Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookie.
“We succeed in getting people to try new things because of the relationships the chefs and dietitians have forged with customers over the past several years. They’re all very passionate, exude excitement over what they do, it’s infectious,” she said. “We post chef and dietitian bios online. As customers peruse which class they want to join, they get to see their instructor’s background. This is key to developing a relationship early.”
Wakefern/ShopRite also showcases chefs and culinary inspiration through separate recipe and Meal of the Week programs. It “connects the dots” for customers through social media, the circular and e-newsletter. Next will be consumer videos, in-store solution centers, and connecting with its digital shopping platforms. For instance, chefs are in instructional videos that run one minute or less and get people to think, “Hey, I can do that.” Dwornik said omnichannel engages shoppers, and lets people connect with ShopRite in any way they want – social media, through the recipe center or merchandising unit in-store, consumer videos, e-newsletter.
Moreover, a handful of ShopRite stores take the Meal of the Week program and offer it in prepared foods. “If customers simply lack time, they can get dinner to go,” said Dwornik.
Wakefern/ShopRite plans next to partner with foodservice to capitalize on the demand built by retail dietitians and the culinary education programs. “There is such an opportunity for foodservice at retail and grocerants, that we expect this partnership between health and wellness and foodservice to be even more successful than the projections just for grocerants – because we’re overlaying the health and wellness consideration, which is really top of mind for our customers,” she said.
“We’ll look at how we’re R&Ding new products, specifically for foodservice subscription programs, and how we can make it easier for customers,” Dwornik added. “How do we take the thought out of it, if you need a low-sodium diet, or heart-healthy, or vegan, how do we give that attribute-based meal program and allow you to sign up for it.”