By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
Nearly five years ago, fresh out of my dietetic internship, I envisioned myself working as clinical dietitian. But the jobs in Maine were slim and employers were seeking more experienced dietitians. When I saw a job advertised for Hannaford, I quickly applied thinking what a great avenue it was to pair my love and excitement for creating healthy recipes, trying new foods and using food as medicine with helping others to do the same. I initially covered one store and that quickly grew to four. I am on the sales floor interacting with shoppers five days a week! Within my stores, I offer healthy recipe demonstrations, classes and store tours, one-on-one shopping help, and associate nutrition education. Within the community, I attend health fairs, sporting events and provide nutrition education to schools, civic groups and residential facilities. I knew after my first several months that I was lucky the hospital jobs hadn't worked out and I had landed in Hannaford.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
One of my biggest challenges has been asserting myself as an educated, credentialed nutrition professional that is trying to sell healthy solutions and not a product. This is sometimes difficult if you have only a few minutes of a busy shopper's day or a passing conversation with a manager in the aisles, but is a challenge that I am eager to face to help build awareness and understanding of the retail dietitian profession.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
Retail moves fast! Before starting my retail dietitian career, it would have helped me to have had a better understanding of the corporate retail structure. Pair this with a profession centered around constantly emerging research and the retail dietitian has to be on their toes and top of this. A retail dietitian needs flexibility to balance the demands of the corporate and store level management with the unique needs of their shoppers.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
Working in four stores I often have brand new managers and assistant managers, some of whom have never worked with or are not familiar with Hannaford Dietitians. Establishing myself as an integral part of the team in each store is often a challenge as sometimes I will feel like I have achieved this and my management team will suddenly completely shift. I have had to learn to be flexible with change and confident in presenting my services and skills to new management.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
Developing relationships with management, associates and shoppers to be viewed as a trustworthy, approachable and relatable resource for food and nutrition help may be the best thing I have done and am still doing every day to move myself forward. Taking the time to show a sincere interest in learning more about what makes the store run and others' roles, in turn, encourages others to take interest in and participate in what I am doing in store. Following along on department walks, attending manager meetings, asking each department manager about some of the most challenging parts of their job – these actions have made a big difference.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
Ask questions! As much as my role is meant to be an educator, I have never stopped trying to learn more for myself. Attending state and national level conferences to create connections with other retail dietitians and learn about their programs, successes and failures has given me ideas or shown me how ideas I may have might not have worked well in other grocery chains. If I see corporate employees or category managers on a store visit I always try to introduce myself and understand what they may be working on in-store and see how I may be able to help. Hannaford Dietitians services are completely free so I work to connect with local dietitians and healthcare providers to bring more shoppers to my events. It is a fun time to be a retail dietitian with so many modules, webinars and articles available to us. Taking advantage of these opportunities has helped me to learn more about the retail industry and to feel important and empowered in this career.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
Several years ago, I connected with a local dietitian near one of my stores who was offering a ten-week weight and lifestyle change program. I offered a store tour for her participants in lieu of one of their weekly classes at the hospital and since that first tour she has made the Hannaford store tour an integral part of her class curriculum. I am most proud of this program because it has been one to consistently bring participants back to my in-store events and hearing comments from them that they are still using the skills they learned from my store tour makes me feel incredibly accomplished.
Hillary Pride RD, LD is on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as @eatswithpride