RD Close-Up: Joanne Heidkamp, MS, RDN, Hannaford Dietitian
By RDBA Executive Director, Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Please describe your role at Hannaford.
My role at Hannaford is to be a friendly and knowledgeable resource our customers as they make food choices to support their health and wellness goals. This might take the form teaching them to read the nutrition facts label, helping them figure out ways to get more legumes into their eating routine, or discussing the pros and cons of milk alternatives. All of my services are offered free of charge.
I spend more than half of my time on the sales floor. In a typical 8-hour period, I offer a sample of a simple recipe that features produce, whole grains or pulses and lead a class or tour that focuses on some aspect of nutrition. I also walk through the store, connecting with customers and associates. Behind the scenes I’m planning my classes and presentations, and also reaching out to community groups such as scouts, sports teams and senior centers to let them know about my services.
What's the story behind experience in retail and how you came to work at Hannaford?
I’ve been at Hannaford since 2012. The position came at a great time in my professional life. I’d spent the previous 13 years as program director of a statewide anti-hunger advocacy organization, helping schools and communities set up school and childcare meal programs. The work was meaningful, but these programs were designed for urban areas with huge economies of scale and trying to make them work in rural Vermont schools with fewer than 200 children was challenging. I was ready for something different. The opportunity at Hannaford offered the chance to be creative and to connect with people making important food decisions that affect their health and their budget.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
It was a challenge to make myself and my services known to customers and the community. They needed time and TLC to see that I’m not in the store as the nutrition police, but as a useful and non-judgmental resource. Over time I’ve built a following, and not only do customers seek me out, they also recommend me to their friends.
What is one thing you wish you had known before starting your career in retail?
When I first started in retail, my fear was that I wouldn’t be able to answer questions from shoppers with so many different eating styles: vegans, long distance runners, parents of picky eaters, people going through chemo, Instant Pot users, etc. It didn’t take me long to realize that my training and experience have equipped me to address a huge variety of concerns, and that many shopper questions are actually fairly basic: how to use the nutrition facts and ingredient labels; the difference between conventional and organic produce; what to do with quinoa. People with more intricate concerns tend to reach out to me by email in advance, so I have some time to prepare.
Has there been anything specific that help you moved forward in your role?
The team leaders in Health and Wellness at Hannaford corporate offices are so supportive. They are always open to ideas and requests for special projects and do their best to make it happen. I am inspired by the other 39 Hannaford dietitians. We get together for a team meeting in Maine twice a year, and we communicate continually via Facebook and email. People regularly post creative examples of how they have implemented our weekly theme in their store, community outreach success stories, and fun bulletin board ideas. In addition, since it’s a big team, with varied specialty areas, there is always someone who can help with resources from other areas of practice.
Tell us about a program or initiative of which you are most proud?
Because of my background in advocacy, I have a lot of community outreach experience. I’m proud of all the groups I have brought into the store for tours and classes, including new immigrants and refugees; older teens transitioning from foster care; and people with developmental disabilities working on life skills.
Joanne Heidkamp has been a dietitian at Hannaford Supermarkets since 2012. She enjoys the opportunity for creative engagement with customers, associates, vendors and the community. In 30+ years as an RD she has worked in acute care, community health, anti-hunger advocacy, and chef education, and finds that the supermarket world is a setting where all those threads come together. She was a PBH Retail Dietitian of the Year in 2015. In addition to her role at Hannaford she teaches in the MS Coordinated Program in Dietetics at the University of Vermont. She lives in South Burlington, Vermont where she cooks, gardens, fosters kittens and enjoys the outdoors all year round.