Food as Medicine: Leveraging RDNs in Food Retail

Food as Medicine: Leveraging RDNs in Food Retail

March 25, 2020
TrendsRetail Industry Insights

By: Allison Yoder, MA, RDN, LD, Nutrition in Food Retail Program Development Fellow, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation

Recent trends have revealed what dietitians in food retail have known all along – health and wellness are defined by the consumer and will continue to be a key purchase driver as consumers lead the charge of food and health trends. Food retailers are paying attention, ranking consumer focus on health and well-being and the food as medicine trend as two top factors positively impacting sales and profit, according to FMI – The Food Industry Association’s Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2019 report.(1) Over 48 million households in the United States have a diagnosis they manage through diet, such as overweight/obesity, diabetes and heart disease.(2) These households represent $268 billion in annual grocery sales, providing an opportunity for food retailers to engage with these customers not only in the pharmacy department but in the food aisles as well.

Food as medicine recognizes the influence of lifestyle factors on overall health while also focusing on an individual’s ability to access healthy food, and awareness, knowledge, and skill of preparing these foods. Food as medicine in the retail setting can support consumers in navigating their health through diet and nutrition by encompassing strategic focus areas: 1) food as preventive medicine to promote health and wellbeing; 2) food as medicine in disease management and treatment; and 3) food as medicine to improve undernutrition/malnutrition in cases of food insecurity.

Food as Medicine Program Models

A Retail Nutrition Programs and Outcomes scoping review was conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation in 2019 to gain better understanding of food as medicine opportunities within food retail. Five program model categories were identified:

  1. Prescription Programs
  2. Incentive Programs
  3. Medically Tailored Nutrition
  4. Point-of-Purchase Marketing and Education
  5. Personalized Nutrition Services

Findings from the scoping review have indicated that point-of-purchase marketing and education and incentive programs increased sales and revenue as stand-alone program models. Personalized nutrition services also contributed in producing positive behavior change. Through a combination of the following program models, both return-on-investment and health outcomes were achieved:

  1. Incentive Programs (including prescription programs and medically tailored meals combined with incentive programs)
  2. Personalized Nutrition Services
  3. Point-of-Purchase Marketing and Education

Food as medicine is not a one-size-fits-all program model for retail, and should take into consideration target population, desired focus areas, and level of dietitian engagement. Many food retailers are already exploring creative partnerships to successfully incorporate food as medicine into their health and wellness platforms. This presents a huge opportunity for retail RDNs to help guide the conversation with their management team and provide key thought leadership on enhancing business opportunities within their retail organizations.

1. FMI | Food Retailing Industry Speaks. Accessed February 26, 2020.
2. Let Food Be Thy Medicine: Americans Use Diet to Manage Chronic Ailments. Accessed February 24, 2020.