RD Close-Up: Erin Dunleavy, MS, RDN, LDN, Lead Dietitian at Weis Markets, Inc.
By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Please describe your role at Weis Markets. How has it changed since the pandemic?
I am responsible for the nutrition, health and wellness programming at Weis Markets, including virtual nutrition classes, associate wellness programs, and HealthyBites magazine publication. Our team also frequently contributes to Weis social media platforms, local news segments, and A Word to the Weis podcast.
The biggest shift for our team since the pandemic has been the growth of our virtual programming, as well as more communication and opportunity to partner with our marketing team in the digital space.
What's the story behind your experience in retail and how you came to work at your retailer?
I was first exposed to retail dietetics as a student at the University of Pittsburgh. I worked with the dietitian team at Giant Eagle, and the role of the retail dietitian quickly became my “dream job.” I consider my time at Weis to be full circle. I began as a summer intern, then as an In-Store Dietitian, and am now the Lead Dietitian.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Getting others to understand the role of a dietitian in a grocery store setting. Finding ways to make nutrition relatable and approachable while understanding the overall business goals has been key to gaining continued support.
What is one thing you wish you had known before starting your career in retail?
This is not the typical dietitian role and to be prepared to be asked the question “What exactly does a dietitian do working at a grocery store?” on a frequent basis. When I first started working in retail, I found myself unsure how to answer this question in a meaningful way. It forced me to develop my “elevator speech” over the years and become more concise in my explanation.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
In a busy retail environment, the dietitian team can often get overlooked and it may be easy to fall into a silo mentality. It’s been helpful to engage with other internal departments and explain the unique value we could bring to new and existing programs. For example, our team frequently communicates with our produce team about new produce items and upcoming promotions. We then align social media content and virtual class themes around these specific promotions.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that help you moved forward in your role?
Working as an In-Store Dietitian for six years in a few different market areas gave me direct experience interacting with a variety of customers and store associates daily. This valuable “on-the-job” experience allows me to have great synergy, understanding, and communication with the current dietitian team I now lead. It also gives me a better insight on what nutrition programs may or may not be successful at the store level.
What do you wish vendors understood about the work of retail dietitians in today’s environment?
For us at Weis, the role of the In-Store Dietitian has completely changed. For example, an in-store food sampling partnership with a vendor may not necessarily be relevant anymore. Each retailer is different, so it is helpful for both sides to initially communicate specific goals and expectations to determine the best way to partner together.
Is there a program or initiative of which you are most proud? Tell us about it.
We recently launched an internal associate diabetes program that consists of pre-recorded modules and live check-in calls with a Weis Dietitian and Weis Pharmacist over a 3-month time period. Associates enrolled in the program have the benefit to participate during paid time. Each associate takes their A1c using a provided test kit before and upon completion of the program. We plan to use A1c levels as a clinical outcome as one way to measure success of the program. It was exciting to build this associate wellness program from the ground up, and to have the support from many internal teams to get it executed.
Bio: Erin Dunleavy, MS, RDN, LDN, is the Lead Dietitian at Weis Markets. In her role, she leads a team of talented dietitians that offer virtual cooking and nutrition education classes, nutrition counseling, community outreach, and associate wellness programs. She oversees the production of Weis HealthyBites magazine and frequently appears on traditional and social media. Erin graduated and completed her dietetic internship program from the University of Pittsburgh. In her free time, she can be found chasing around her two young children.