By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Community outreach is a component of most retail dietitians’ job descriptions. This work has the potential to improve shopper loyalty, gain new customers for the retailer and enhance a retailer’s brand in key markets. Partnering with health care entities (think hospitals, clinics, and insurance groups) can also lend credibility to the retailer’s healthy living programs and send highly motivated participants to retail RDN programs and services. Jenna Stock, RD, Manager of Corporate Retail Health & Wellness at Inserra Supermarkets Inc. articulates the benefit well. “Partnering with healthcare companies makes sense,” comments Stock. “Together we are a perfect team. Healthcare providers have the ability to teach their clients what to do to better themselves, and they have the teams that can diagnose and start the process of change. A retail dietitian can help a person execute change. The retail RD can take the words on paper and turn them into meals, snacks, products and easy solutions. We can show the customer not only what to buy, but how to prepare it and what to pair it with. The retail dietitian creates a personal relationship with this customer and gains their trust, and that person will become a loyal shopper.”
According to the US Census Bureau, there are more than 750,000 health care businesses in the U.S., including clinics, hospitals, and dentist offices. The industry accounts for nearly 1.7 trillion dollars in business and employs nearly 17 million people. While hospitals make up the lowest number of businesses, they employ the most people. These various businesses and the health care industry as a whole create interesting partnership opportunities for retail dietitians, including the following:
With the launch of the Affordable Care Act, hospitals have reasons to keep their patients healthy after discharge, and hospitals are reaching out to retailers that offer healthy living solutions as a partner in this effort. In smaller communities, physician clinics may not have RDNs on staff, and could be interested in referring patients to a retail dietitian. While some retailers have developed extensive MNT programs, including insurance reimbursement and charting systems that allow them to communicate back to the client’s doctor, others believe state legalities create too many barriers to offer MNT. This service does have the potential to create a easily trackable ROI for RDNs, but some indicate the cost benefit isn’t there unless an administrative assistant is available to assist with paper work. An addition consideration is that the skills for an RD to work in a retail business setting are not the same skills best leveraged in this more clinical work. There is much to consider for a retailer interested in providing MNT, but the bottom line here is that clinics can be a logical partner in this area.
As dietitians, you all know the frustration your clinical counterparts have – they have limited time for nutrition education of patients and the timing isn’t always right for a meaningful conversation. But all health professionals can agree that the point-of-purchase is a perfect place for nutrition guidance, and for this reason, health care entities will likely be happy to promote your retail RDN programs and services. When partnering on this front, be sure to focus on how your programs enhance what the clinic or health professional is already doing. Consider if there are specialty health care groups in your market area that focus on a particular audience you are targeting (think people with diabetes, pregnant moms). Redner’s Market launched their HealthCents program in 2009, and have partnered with large hospital systems, medical clinics and disease-related support groups. Meredith McGrath, RD, LDN and Corporate Dietitian comments, “I have been able to help bridge this gap between retail and healthcare and open our doors to new customers. This allows us as the retailer to reach out and assist healthcare groups with connections such as brand information, product innovation, and new food regulations while giving them the retail space to explore food items and meal solutions. In return, we are exposed to new customers and are able to make friends on our home turf which we may not normally have made without the help of our healthcare partner. It truly is a win-win for the community when these pieces fit together and have one goal in mind.” Hannaford Dietitian Patricia Hunter MA, RD, CDE has made affiliations with several Cardiac Rehab centers and has been integrated into their curriculum. Hunter comments “Each Cardiac patient and spouse is expected to attend a class on label reading and this is followed by a low sodium shopping tour. I try to sample a variety of interesting low fat cheeses/ whole grain crackers etc. Other successful ventures have been set up with local Diabetes education units where I would offer store tours.” As you move into these partnerships, understand how the health care company might promote your programs and what resources they need to do so effectively. Plan for regular reporting back to the group on how their promotion is impacting services and the number of their clients that are being met through your programs.
Most health care entities are consider a key business in their community. Additionally, their brand image is all about health. For these reasons, partnering with them can lend credibility to the retailer’s health and wellness brand and image. Offering joint education and promotion programs with a health care entity can garner support and press in the community that a retailer along might not be able to secure. Additionally, an implied or full endorsement of a health-related program by a clinic, hospital or physician group can heighten your brand’s image.
There are many differing ways to partner with health care businesses; finding the alignment with your brands and health and wellness focus is the key.