By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota are amongst the top 20 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., and for this reason, it makes complete sense why Hy-Vee decided to open two grocery stores in this market. I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at the stores before opening, courtesy of Julie McMillin, Assistant Vice President of Retail Dietetics, and Elisa Sloss, one of the corporate RDNs who helps supervise the in-store RD program.
To say the stores are impressive is an understatement, and the company’s commitment to healthy living has been built into the brick and mortar of the store. For example, the Hy-Vee Healthy You branding is big and bold at the front of the store. This branding encompasses the pharmacy, nutrition services, and North Memorial Express Clinic. At opening, each store will have two full-time dietitians. When asked how they justified hiring two out of the gate, McMillin responded, “We know the anticipated sales and shopper volume at each of the new stores; this data helps us determine the number of RDs and the coverage needed for each stores.” One of the RDNs will be focused on community education both inside and outside the store, while the other will be primarily focused on clinical work. “With a clinic directly in the store, we anticipate a significant number of referrals to the dietitian,” comments McMillin, “and we’ve set up our tracking systems to allow for direct referral and access to patient information.”
The store footprint has been designed with the nutrition services in mind. In addition to the two consultation rooms, there is a commercial type kitchen set up in the middle of the store. “We’ll run our Dinner Solved at Hy-Vee (DISH) program in this space,” comments Elisa Sloss. This program is offered in about 25-35 Hy-Vee stores. Shoppers pay a set fee, come into the store and prep 10 meals which they take home and freeze for later use.
Chef inspired, dietitian approved is a common saying at Hy-Vee, and the expansion of prepared foods in the new stores lends itself to partnership between the chefs and RDs. The dietitians promote healthier items in the prepared food sections, and can use the shopper-facing chefs’ stations to conduct demos. They also teach joint classes with the chefs.
The bulk foods section is one of the most expansive I have seen in the grocery industry, and the RDs have a role here as well. They are tagging “Dietitian Picks” in this section and calling out key nutrition and health attributes of the products sold. The RDs will also pull 100-300 calorie snack packs from the bulk bins, showcasing how shoppers can manage portion control in this department of the store.
The Hy-Vee HealthMarket is a store-within-a-store concept where Hy-Vee often introduces new healthier items in addition to providing a one-stop-shop for shoppers seeking gluten-free, organic or all-natural. When McMillin started with the company, the RDs managed the HealthMarket in their store, with responsibility for assortment decisions, ordering, and managing the P&L. “It was a great way to really understand retail,” comments Sloss. The department has grown extensively over time, and while the RDs no longer manage this area, McMillin partners at the corporate level for assortment planning and store RDs work with department leads in the store to promote products merchandised here.
The new Hy-Vee stores also offer a full, sit down restaurant called Market Grill. “I drop my husband and kids here,” says McMillin, “and then do my grocery shopping. By the time I’m done, my husband and kids have ordered, the food just arrives, and we can have a family dinner together.” From a business perspective, there are synergies in procurement of fresh foods for the store and the restaurant, and the restaurant increases customer loyalty and store sales.
The final stop we make on our tour of the new store is the Health Concierge desk. Here, shoppers can make appointments with the RDs, sign up for classes, and learn more about Hy-Vee’s Healthy You program. It’s a smart use of resources, allowing the RDs and pharmacists to focus on the work at hand.
Hy-Vee has long been a leader on health and wellness and the design of these new Twin Cities stores confirms their long-term commitment to helping shopper’s live healthier lives.