Dietitian Roles in Retail Acquisitions
By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
The retail dietitian role continues to evolve, making it an interesting and varied career path. As I talk to individual RDs, I’m amazed at the opportunities (and challenges, if I’m being honest) that emerge. Recently, three retail RDs have gotten involved with acquisitions by their companies, and I had the opportunity to connect with them on the dietitian’s role in these moves.
In December of 2021, They Raley’s Companies acquired family-owned Basha’s, with 114 stores under four banners in Arizona and New Mexico. Raley’s also acquired FieldTrue, a family-owned company that provides farm box programs on a subscription bases, supporting local farmers with a focus on organically grown produce. In 2018, Coborn’s Inc acquired eight Hornbacher’s stores, and in 2021, added 6 Tadych’s, both Midwest chains. In 2020, Schnuck’s purchased one Lucky’s Market in Columbia, MO and through this process, created a new banner called EatWell.
Retailers purchase other chains for a host of reasons as is clear in these acquisitions. Basha’s four banners, for example, each have a distinct focus to meet the needs of the diverse populations that it serves. According to Yvette Waters, MS, RDN, CISSN, Nutrition Strategist and Brand Influencer at Raley’s, Basha’s Dine operates 13 stores on the Navajo Nation and a couple other reservation lands, having an assortment more focused on the Navajo and Apache customers they serve. Food City is a Hispanic focused supermarket offering a full variety of ethnic and Hispanic food choices. AJ’s Fine Foods are upscale gourmet markets that serve the Arizona and Scottsdale community. All these banners, although under the same company, operate quite distinct from each other. Allison Primo, MS, RD, LD Health & Wellness Strategy Manager, Schnucks indicates that while Schnuck’s carries many of the natural and organic items that can be found at Lucky's they also carry more conventional items to meet customers’ needs. With so many different options in Schnuck’s stores, it can make it challenging to find the natural/organic items. With the creation of EatWell they are able to slim down and focus on this growing trend to best meet the health-focused customers’ needs. Having a more targeted and smaller assortment that skews towards natural and organic makes it easier to highlight these specific items and build a story around the products that often get lost in the assortment at Schnucks. The EatWell banner also offers a space for the overall company to grow in the natural living supplement space, a concept they have actually taken from the EatWell store and started to implement inside Schnucks stores. When placed in Schnuck’s stores, the concept is tied with traditional drug/HBC as it can be a great education piece to customers looking for health remedies.
While Hornbacher’s originally had a gluten free shelf tag program as the extent of their health and wellness positioning, Emily Parent, MFCS, RD, LD, FAND, Health and Wellness Manager at Coborn’s indicates they are now initiating a shelf-tag program there that includes over 5,000 dietitian-approved products called “Good 4 You.” Employees at both Hornbacher’s and Tadych’s have been transitioned into Coborn’s employee wellness program.
Primo’s role in the Schnuck’s acquisition has included assisting with the ingredient guardrails, providing guidance to category managers on assortment decisions and training department managers in the natural living departments. As the developer of the Schuck’s health and wellness strategy for Schnucks, she now keeps the EatWell store and concepts in mind to make sure initiatives being presented at Schnuck’s are tweaked to best target the EatWell customers. With the Basha’s acquisition, Water has been focused on meeting the internal teams including the merchants, HR, operations, and internal wellness committee. She has traveled to the different stores, learning more about each of the banners, meeting team members and store directors, and gathering feedback. In private label, they are focused on finding common synergies amongst the brands and suppliers and creating a governance committee, like they currently have with Raley’s private label.
Parent’s advice for dietitians whose retailers make an acquisition is to “Get involved! While it isn’t always possible to get involved in the same aspects as you currently work on with your current stores, there are always opportunities to show the added value of health and wellness programming –however that looks for your stores—in newly acquired stores.” Allison suggests retail RDs branch outside their traditional role to get involved. “Before EatWell, I wasn't involved much with our drug and HBC departments, but this allowed me to learn something new and get more involved with our merchandising team. It has now opened the door for me to get more involved with the EatWell banner and try new health concepts that we wouldn't normally offer to our Schnucks customers,” she comments. Yvette adds, “Spend time with individuals throughout the entire business and learn how they have been executing their work. Often times the vernacular is even a bit different, so take your time to learn and observe, then when the time is right, bring in these different teams as your champions when building out your multifaceted health and wellness strategy.”
The RD role in acquisitions is crucial to having a comprehensive health and wellness strategy across the company, as showcased here.