Does the Retail RD's Role Conflict with the Professional Code of Ethics?

Does the Retail RD's Role Conflict with the Professional Code of Ethics?

August 29, 2018
Annette Maggi
Business Skills

By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Code of Ethics includes very specific messaging that applies to all RDS, including those working in retail. The code dictates that RDs will promote or endorse products in a way that is not false or misleading, that reliable and substantiated information will be presented, and that evidence-based principles will be used in all communications. Additionally, the dietitian will set aside personal bias in her work.

At the same time, the retail company cares about profits and customer loyalty, increasing trip frequency and basket size, and meeting the shoppers' definition of health and wellness. While a traditional definition of health and wellness may focus on meal planning that aligns with MyPlate recommendations, heart disease and diabetes management, and meeting family's needs for healthier meal solutions, a broader definition exists in today's consumer and retailer views.  Everything from cleansing and detoxing, clean labels, organic, cage free, and Paleo eating plans are of interest to shoppers. Retailers are interested in capitalizing on this broader view of health and wellness to keep each and every shopper as a loyal customer.

So how can the dietitian support these retailer goals within her code of ethics? The key is to represent products in a truthful way. Consider the example of organic products. There is not scientific consensus to suggest organic foods, which range from produce to cookies, are more nutritious. Additionally, pesticides are used in organic farming, and USDA data indicates 99% of all produce tested is within safe tolerances for pesticide residues.  In light of this, there is no evidence-based science to support a benefit to the shopper in these areas. What the RD can do is provide shoppers with a better understanding of how organic production and handling is defined, highlight organic products in the store without attaching a specific benefit to them, or featuring those products that are organic but also have a strong nutrition profile.

While dietitians may choose to follow very strict eating patterns, the code of ethics dictates that personal bias be set aside in counseling consumers. There are situations where it is also important to set aside personal bias to fully support your retailer's business. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, for example, you need to feel comfortable handling and preparing meat, poultry, seafood and dairy as these are important foods to many shoppers and to the store's business. The goal is to assess the shopper's preferences and eating patterns and to coach from this viewpoint, setting aside your personal beliefs.  

While the retail dietitian role definitely includes the promotion and sale of food products, this can be managed well within the scope of professional code of ethics.