RD Close-up: Shelbi Thurau, RD, Retail Dietitian Supervisor at Wakefern

RD Close-up: Shelbi Thurau, RD, Retail Dietitian Supervisor at Wakefern

September 11, 2019
Annette Maggi
Retail Dietitian Profiles

By RDBA Executive Director, Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Please describe your role at Wakefern.
As a dietitian supervisor at ShopRite, my job is to work with our in-store dietitians located in the Northeast region, assist them with growing their programs, and encourage their growth and development as retail dietitians. I also have a hand in our culinary programs, assisting in curating recipes and classes that fall under the culinary umbrella.

What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
When a retail dietitian position became available at the ShopRite of Commack, NY, just as I was ending my dietetic internship, I jumped at the chance. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to merge my lifelong passion for nutrition and my desire to help people achieve their health and wellness goals. After spending nearly three years working as the in-store dietitian at the Commack store, I developed a deep and unwavering appreciation for the amazing work that our retail dietitians do, and I’m so grateful to Wakefern and our co-op members for giving me the opportunity to start my career in such an exciting and positive way.

What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Unfortunately, in our day-to-day jobs as retail dietitians, misinformation about food and nutrition is one of the perils. Ask any in-store dietitian, and they’ll probably tell you about a customer that’s come in asking about a fad diet or miracle drink that they heard about on social media or were told about by a friend or family member. Dispensing true knowledge and dispelling these food myths is a constant but very important part of our responsibility as health and wellness professionals. Luckily, working on the supermarket floor allows us to talk to consumers directly, explain fact from fiction, and provide sound advice while building customer loyalty. It all adds up and adds value to our services and brand. 

What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
I wish I would have known more about the business side of the grocery business. I think that having a thorough understanding of the business side of the grocery industry would be helpful for anyone who is entering this industry. However, for dietitians who prior to working in a supermarket retail environment were employed in a clinical or hospital setting, the mindset shift that needs to take place is especially daunting. On the bright side, most of the dietitians I’ve worked with here at ShopRite adapt and quickly learn how to integrate the business and marketing side of their job with the clinical nature of it. Once they begin to integrate all aspects of the business, it helps them to grow and be even more successful in their role. 

Has there been anything specific that has held you back?  
It can be really overwhelming when you start out in a store as a new dietitian. There’s so much opportunity, and it’s natural to want to do everything all at once.  Plus, there are often multiple forces pulling at you, asking you do a variety of things such as in-store events, associate events, community events, private in-store counseling, and so much more. It’s all great stuff, but there’s only so many hours in the days, and the truth is, it’s nearly impossible to please everyone. One thing that I have learned, and this is something I often tell our new team members is that it’s better to excel at a few things, than say yes to every idea and request.  

In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?  
Having the opportunity to talk to other retail dietitians, whether from ShopRite or other programs throughout the country at conventions or other events, has always been helpful. Collaborating and learning from what others are doing always fills me with a sense of excitement that I bring back to my own program. I’m always impressed with what dietitians are capable of and it always inspires me to strive to achieve greater success.

What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
Whether you are working in a store or in a corporate environment, spending time getting to know your fellow associates is extremely important to future success. At the retail level, cultivating support -- what we call buy-in -- throughout your store helps to build your programming. As dietitians we are the nutrition experts, but it’s up to us to learn more about the retail environment we operate in through those who have expertise in their areas. Working together as a team allows us to make the biggest impact on both our shoppers and our associates.

Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
Because such a large part of my position is meeting with the in-store dietitians to make sure they feel confident and supported in their store’s programming, I am always extremely proud when I see one of the RDs succeed. Whether it is filling a new class, planning and running a health fair in their store for the first time, or getting their first customer testimonial about the impact they made through counseling, the passion and creativity that I see among our ShopRite dietitians inspires me every day. I’m grateful and blessed to be able to work with such a talented team of health and wellness professionals and look forward to continuing to helping to build our team for the future.