by Amanda Rubizhevsky
How long has the Village Food Garden (VFG) Wellness Center been open? Did you have a role in developing the center?
The VFG (Village Food Garden) Wellness Center has been open since the ShopRite of Greater Morristown opened in November of 2013. As the retail dietitian in the store, I was able to collaborate with the owners at Village Super Market to develop an overall health and wellness concept for the VFG Wellness Center. Our owners took my opinion into consideration when planning the space and continue to include me in the decision making process when we make changes.
What services/ equipment does the VFG Wellness Center offer?
The VFG Wellness Center offers an array of health and wellness services to our guests and the community all in one convenient place. There are four main pillars to the wellness center including free registered dietitian services, a full service pharmacy, a learning center for children, and a fitness studio. As the store’s retail dietitian, I offer free one-on-one nutrition counseling, supermarket tours, samplings/tastings, cooking classes, a meal of the week display case and spend a lot of time in the community at health fairs, lunch and learns and doing nutrition education, where needed. Our full-service pharmacy offers free and reduced cost drug programs, vaccinations and medication counseling. In addition, our Learning Center for Future Geniuses offers free childcare! While in the Learning Center, children ages 3-8 participate in guided crafts, activities, play on the iPads, watch a movie or play with a variety of toys and games.
We’ve also recently created an exclusive VFG wellness membership for our guests. Included in the $20.00/month rate is unlimited access to our fitness classes. Our fitness center offers 3-4 classes per day for all ages including Zumba, yoga, circuit training, cardio boot camp, and kid’s yoga. They are also able to receive discounts at our freshly pressed juice bar and other membership perks.
Has the center increased the visibility of your services as a retail dietitian?
The center has raised a great deal of awareness for my retail dietitian services. Most of the individuals that participate in our fitness classes regularly have had consultations to evaluate their eating habits. I offer pre and post workout snack demos to Wellness Center members to engage them and offer tips and advice. I have made great community contacts and connections with local gyms/organizations through our fitness instructors. The pharmacy and I work together to refer guests back and forth so they can receive a team approach to their healthcare. The learning center coordinator also refers her moms to come see me about their kid’s eating habits. Being located within a contained “center” helps guests feel like they can get the “whole package” when it comes to their health and wellness.
How does your role interact with other cross functional groups like pharmacy and culinary to promote healthy living?
Our in store executive chef, Danny Arturo, and I work together to do a once-a-month healthy cooking class. While Chef Danny shows the customers how to cook healthfully, I help them gain understanding of the nutrition benefits and why we are suggesting different cooking techniques and methods.
I also work in our culinary center to film cooking videos so customers can see how to prepare healthy recipes and what the final dish will look like. We then show these videos on our Facebook page and throughout the digital screens in our store.
The pharmacy and I partner to do in-store screenings, health & wellness days and go out into the community to educate them on proper medication use and overall health and wellness.
Do you see potential for similar centers to open at other ShopRite locations?
There are more than 90 retail RDs servicing ShopRite stores across the Northeast, offering free nutrition services, seminars, and community outreach just as we do here in Greater Morristown. Other ShopRite stores have already incorporated wellness centers into their floor plans and the customer interest in a one-stop health and wellness destination continues to grow.
Is there any other information that you would like to share with fellow retail dietitians who might be interested in similar initiatives?
The VFG Wellness Center offers a great service that guests do not think of as being done “in a supermarket.” The fitness center offers guests another reason to come to the store, thus increasing their number of shopping trips per week and total weekly sales. The VFG Wellness Center is a perfect education opportunity for a retail dietitian to work with those already interested in living a healthy lifestyle to recommend new, trendy items to make them feel as if they are part of an exclusive part of the store. I’ve built great rapport with those who take fitness classes regularly (as my office is right near the fitness center) and they come to me with questions, product recommendations and suggestions.
What is your favorite part about the program?
I have so many favorites!! One of my favorite parts about the VFG Wellness Center is having a great network of guests who value the benefits of nutrition and fitness. The members are so supportive of the programs I offer and constantly help me review and evaluate new products and create upcoming programs. I love being able to get the members an answer to any of their questions. Even if I can’t help, our network of our pharmacist, executive chef, or fitness instructors are usually able to. I feel these guests truly get a well-rounded experience where they can learn about nutrition, fitness, and cooking all under one roof! Another one of my favorite parts of the program is seeing the fitness center members becoming such good friends! I love seeing them congregate for coffee in our patio area between classes, making plans to hang out outside of ShopRite, and taking cooking classes together.
What has happened as a result of the VFG Wellness Center, for your store, individuals, and the community?
Since the store and VFG Wellness Center have opened, it has been revolutionary in the way people view ShopRite and our initiative to embrace health and wellness. The community is taken aback by the fact that we have a fitness studio in the store, have free retail dietitian services, a full service pharmacy and cooking classes all in one location! A variety of community groups from home health care agencies to mom’s groups have used our fitness center for business presentations and meetings, held team building healthy cooking classes with Chef Danny and me, scheduled individual “private” healthy shopping store tours, and have hired our fitness instructors to do private classes for their groups in our facility. The VFG Wellness Center Members have formed such a friendship and bond, coming to ShopRite has become a social experience! We never anticipated this happening, but now they get lunch together, sit together at church, and get together for coffee after taking classes.
Reflecting on the experiences you’ve had at the VFG Wellness Center, what do you think other retail RDs can do in their stores to promote wellness, even if they don’t have the facilities you have?
I think there are a number of things retail RDs can do in their stores to promote health and wellness. A perfect example is a walking club in the store. This can be done ANYWHERE! Here at the VFG Wellness Center, we meet at 8am on Thursday mornings and walk 1 mile through the inside of the store. I started this over the winter, as people use the cold weather as an excuse to not exercise. The group continues to grow and “members” get their card punched each week for attending and get prizes for completing their walks with me. Also, creating a health and wellness day in the store is always well-received by customers. I bring in vendors to sample, local hospitals or health care agencies to do screenings and set up a table myself, to promote my services. I do a different theme each month to let guests try different items and receive free screenings, without going out of their way. I think building relationships with guests and local community organizations is the biggest and best way to promote yourself as a retail RD and your services to the community.