Key Retail Takeaways on the White House Summit on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health
By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Last Wednesday, the White House extended team created history by hosting the second ever summit on hunger, nutrition, and health. The full strategy, as an outcome of the conference and activities leading up to the live event, is available here. This article highlights key points for retailers as well as subtle undertones of the meeting.
- A significant focus on access to healthy foods for all Americans will drive expansion of programs like SNAP and WIC. Historically, retail RDs have had limited involvement in these programs, with the retail focus on the operational execution of WIC and SNAP. Future forward, opportunity exists for dietitians to ensure their retailers are maximizing the funding opportunities in these programs to reach underserved populations and promoting foods that are affordable and nutrient dense. Retail RDs should consider who RD education and services can be covered as a part of SNAP education programming. Retailers are quickly making commitments related to access to healthy foods. Hy-Vee, as one example, announced they will deliver 30 million meals to "vulnerable" communities by 2025 and deploy its team of registered dietitians to educate 100,000 residents of low-food access areas about healthy eating by 2026. Publix has committed $3.85 million commitment to supply food to local food banks and establish free mobile food pantries.
- Medicaid funding of medically tailored meals and produce prescription programs. These are likely two of the historic programs that will come out of the summit, with the administration supporting legislation to create a pilot test of these programs for individuals with diet-related health conditions. Last week, Instacart launched InstacartHealth, which provides tools for nutritious grocery shopping and offers a platform for healthcare providers and caregivers to recommend and order groceries for patients and others. Given their experience with meal kits and solutions, their established distribution systems, their locations in various sizes of communities, and the knowledge and work of their RDs, retailers are ideally suited to play a pivotal role in the pilot and role out of these programs. Savvy retail RDs will quickly identify how their company can get involved.
- Regulatory and labeling policies. It’s no coincidence that the FDA released the proposed rule for “healthy” on the same day of the conference (more to come on this proposed rule next week); new regulations are definitely included in the national strategy. These include creation of sodium reduction targets, continued discussion on added sugars, food advertising, and making nutrition information more accessible when shopping online. Retail RDs who manage attribute programs will want to quickly assess the impact of the proposed healthy definition as well as keep an eye on these other topics as related to private label businesses. Additionally, retailers need a seat at the table to showcase all the work being done with attribute and health promotion in e-commerce and other digital environments.
- One agency for food and health. HHS, FDA, USDA, SSA, ACF – at one point in the conference, a speaker suggested there are more than 14 federal agencies involved in the various nutrition, health, and hunger programs. There was mention of a goal to consolidate this complicated structure. While good in theory, it would take more than an act of Congress to actually make this happen.
- Retailers need a seat at the table. Across the board at the conference, there was a limited presence of CPG and retail company representatives as speakers, which under minds the roles these companies play in making food available, accessible, and affordable for Americans. Two specific recommendations in the national strategy relate to retail, supporting the work of retail dietitians. While this recognition is helpful for continued support and growth of retail RD programs, there is much more that retail is and can do to drive the priorities presented in this summit. In reference, the two retail recommendations listed in the strategy are:
- Food retailers should hire RDNs to help provide nutrition information to consumers, redesign stores to more prominently place healthier choices, market and stock healthier items, and establish buying programs with local farms.
- Online grocery companies should redesign their search algorithms to ensure healthier products appear first and include ingredient and Nutrition Facts label information in an accessible manner for all food products sold online.