RD Close-Up: April Graff, MS, RD, LD, Hy-Vee Dietitian
By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Please describe your role at Hy-Vee. How has it changed since the pandemic?
My role at Hy-Vee hasn't changed since I started nearly 14 years ago. How I do my job has changed, but the focus on translating science-based information into applicable information to help customers find solutions for their nutrition obstacles has not changed. My focus every day is helping bridge the gap of where customers want to be with nutrition and where they actually are. Most people know the basics of a healthy diet. They struggle with how to get there. They may not know how to choose or prepare foods, they may not know how to read a label, they may not know how to set up their plate to balance blood sugars, or they may not know how to meal plan around their busy schedule, and that's where I come in.
What's the story behind your experience in retail and how you came to work at your retailer?
The story of how I came to work at Hy-Vee is a bit unique. While finishing my internship, I was beginning to wonder if I chose the wrong field. I had a passion for food and nutrition, but none of my rotations were something I could see myself doing for the long term. This all changed when I was walking the aisles of my current Hy-Vee store visiting my husband for the weekend (we spent the year apart for my internship rotations), and I felt excitement start to bubble up and my brain went into overdrive brainstorming all of the ways I could educate customers in the grocery store setting. Fast forward a couple weeks and I found myself in a meeting with the store directors of the two stores in town. Emboldened with my power suit, extra hairspray, and a fire inside, I somehow convinced the directors that hiring me would be a great idea. Mind you, they didn't have a position posted, weren't looking for a dietitian, and this was before retail RDs were commonplace. I've been boldly walking the aisles of my grocery store ever since.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
The biggest challenge of working in the retail industry is keeping up with all the new products and trends. Staying up to date with scientific-based information to help customer navigate the muddy waters is always challenging.
What is one thing you wish you had known before starting your career in retail?
I wish I had known more about marketing and sales. Without great marketing and sales skills, the best programming will fall flat. As retail RDs, we are fighting to have our messages heard and our classes attended. Great marketing and sales skills are the key to success.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
At the beginning of my career, proving my worth to traditional grocery management was a huge obstacle. Focusing on relationship building and choosing impactful (and profitable) activities was key to winning over the management of my store.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that help you moved forward in your role?
I attribute my success with the unburning passion I have for helping people cut through all the nutrition confusion. I am persistent in my goals and am always looking for alternative ways to get the job done.
Is there a program or initiative of which you are most proud?
I am most proud of the community connections I have established, and the trust people have in me. Relationships take time to build, and the effort put in to form those connections will only serve you positively in the future.