Interviewed by RDBA Contributing Editor Amanda Rubizhevsky, MPH, NC
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
I started my career with King Soopers in Colorado as a nutrition specialist in the Optimum Wellness department, which houses our store’s natural and organic body care and supplement lines. Soon after, I became a district registered dietitian for the Southwest part of Denver. In January 2016, our team of dietitians transferred to The Little Clinic, a wholly owned subsidiary of Kroger, and joined the healthcare team within select King Soopers stores that included board certified nurse practitioners.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
As a retail dietitian, it is my job to be skilled in translating complicated information about food labels, ingredients, and allergens into realistic food choices at the point of purchase. As such, it is absolutely essential that I stay up to date in many different areas of research. At times, it can be challenging to stay current with findings about marketing tactics, food labeling requirements, packaging processes, and clinical nutrition because new information is constantly becoming available.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
Though we are a fast-growing sector of the dietetics world, grocery store nutrition is still not commonplace in the consumer mindset. We have the challenge and opportunity to prove to customers and healthcare providers why seeing a dietitian in the supermarket is so beneficial. We are continually finding more effective ways to explain how we can help patients “where the rubber meets the road” and guide them through their purchasing decisions when and where they are happening.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
My previous experience working as a store level associate has been very helpful in my current role as a regional dietitian. It laid a foundation for me to learn how a grocery store operates. At the store level, I learned how products are ordered and delivered to the store, how associates receive communication, how customers navigate the store, etc. This foundation has helped me plan programs more effectively.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
Our team has found it helpful to schedule regular learning sessions with buyers, merchandisers, coordinators, and anyone who has been with the company for a long time. In this business, you must know the jargon and the operational processes to be able to implement successful programs and these are some of the best people to learn from.
How do you balance the time between seeing clients at the Little Clinic and also executing programs in the stores?
All of our programs in our stores revolve around increasing patient awareness and conducting patient visits in a unique but effective space, which is the grocery store floor. Thanks to our unique program design, seeing patients doesn’t mean just in a clinic room. While our goal is to provide personalized nutrition solutions on a one-on-one basis, we are also able to see them through cooking demonstrations, walk and talks in the aisles, and nutrition-focused classes. So in truth, we are able to see many patients THROUGH the programs we execute inside our stores.
Tell us about one of the programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
I am most proud of the store-wide “Wellness Festivals” we host within our stores featuring educational booths staffed by nutrition professionals. Customers are incentivized to participate with a game card they get stamped at each booth to receive a small store credit upon completion. By the end, customers and associates are excited to share the practical skills they learned like making over a PB and J with fresh berries instead of jelly or how to make a “power snack” by combining energy for now plus energy for later. To this day, I still have customers and associates talking about the skills and information they gleaned from these experiential learning events.
Prior to working as an RD for The Little Clinic and King Soopers in Colorado, Cristina lived in Seattle Washington and worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer in underserved elementary schools as a nutrition and gardening educator. She completed her community-focused dietetic internship at Simmons College and undergraduate work at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. In her spare time she enjoys snow-shoeing, mentoring students, and salsa dancing. Her favorite thing about being a dietitian is taking customers through grocery store tours to debunk nutrition myths.
You can find Cristina and her team on Instagram @sooperfoodies and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/the-little-clinic.