RD Close Up: Alison Halpern, RD, CHES: ShopRite of Hackensack
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
Nutrition and dietetics were always a passion of mine, but this is actually a second career for me. I have a degree in public health and began my career as a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES). As a health educator, I found that nearly everything I was teaching others about disease prevention pointed back to a healthy diet. It was clear to me that good nutrition is the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle. After going back to school at Montclair State University to complete a didactic program in dietetics (DPD) and my dietetic internship, I knew I wanted to work with the community somehow. A friend and fellow retail dietitian actually referred me to an open RD position with ShopRite. Practicing nutrition education in the supermarket is the perfect environment for hands-on, practical teaching for healthy lifestyle change. I’ve been in the position for about three months now and am so excited by the different things I get to do every day. I can’t imagine a job that would provide as much day-to-day variety, especially for a newer dietitian!
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Being a one-person department can be overwhelming at times. It takes a lot of creativity, time management, and organization to be successful.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
Cooking demonstrations are a substantial part of what we do as retail dietitians. I wish I had the chance to hone my culinary skills more during my nutrition education.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back? If yes, tell us about this and how you dealt with it.
In the beginning I think my own shyness held me back. I can already tell, though, that I am becoming more confident and assertive. As the only dietitian in the store, you have to advocate for yourself and stand behind your programs and choices. Now I’m not afraid to get on the intercom and let customers know I’m there!
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
I feel extremely lucky to be a part of a wonderful team of dietitians. My ShopRite is part of the Inserra Supermarkets family, along with 21 other ShopRite stores in New York and New Jersey, 10 of which have a dietitian in-store. I am learning a ton from these amazing veteran RDs and feel so supported by them, as well as my management team.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
My background in health education has been really helpful in planning and implementing programs, but I continue to learn the ins and outs of the grocery business, which was totally new to me when I started. I am asking questions whenever I can, taking advantage of resources like RDBA, and participating in trainings offered by my company.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
While I enjoy my time in the store, I am proud when I am able to branch out and take advantage of opportunities to work with community partners. I love to represent ShopRite to the community as a health food destination, and increase awareness about a dietitian’s expertise and role within the supermarket. Any presentation requested in the community is always done at no cost, and I am proud I can be the resource for those seeking nutrition education.