Allison attended Michigan State University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics. She completed her dietetic internship at Yale-New Haven Hospital. In addition to being a dietitian, Allison is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor.
Prior to joining Spartan, Allison combined her nutrition and fitness expertise,in an outpatient setting, providing nutrition counseling and personal training sessions in a state of the art health facility. She also spent a few years in the Community Clinical Services division of the Health Department, counseling nutritionally high risk patients and teaching preventative wellness classes.
Tell us a little bit about Spartan Stores, Inc.
Spartan Stores, Inc. (Nasdaq: SPTN) is the nation’s tenth largest grocery distributor with 1.4 million square feet of warehouse, distribution and office space located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Company distributes more than 40,000 private and national brand products to approximately 390 independent grocery locations in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, and to 101 corporate owned stores located in Michigan, including Family Fare Supermarkets, Glen’s Markets, D&W Fresh Markets, VG’s Food and Pharmacy, and Valu Land.
What’s the story on your experience in retail and your position with Spartan ?
I entered retail two years ago with my position at Spartan. I was drawn to position because I saw it as an opportunity to do some really far reaching nutrition education and health promotion. With my background in public health, I am very driven to reach as many people as I can with my messages.
I report to the Director of Marketing and am a one woman show as far as nutrition expertise goes. I manage our Nutrition Guide shelf tag program, write articles for our health magazine, select and write about a “Healthy Pick of the Week” in the print ad, promote healthy foods in the media, create and share nutrition marketing tools with the independent grocers we distribute to, participate in countless community expos and speaking engagements, plan and participate in corporate wellness activities at Spartan, and more.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Since I am the only dietitian at Spartan, my biggest challenge is figuring out how to make the greatest impact with my programs and messages. I quickly realized that conducting grocery store tours in front of 6-10 customers is not an optimal use of my time. I admire the supermarket chains with an army of dietitians who are afforded the opportunity to forge a closer relationship with customers. At this point, I must develop and distribute broad based programs that others can help execute.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
I wish I had a background in marketing, the grocery business, or just business in general. There has been a very steep learning curve ever since I started in my position at Spartan. It’s gotten easier, but there’s not a day that goes by without learning something new.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back? If yes, tell us about this and how you dealt with it.
I quickly recognized that I did not speak the same language as m y co-workers. I found myself wondering, “What is ROP, TPR, ROI?” and many other business acronyms and jargon. At first, I felt silly asking what all this meant, as if a dietitian should just know all of this terminology. I would run back to my desk after meetings and look up all of the terms I scratched down on my notepad. Finally, I became comfortable enough in the organization to just ask questions on the spot. This helped me learn much more quickly and communicate more effectively during meetings.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward? If yes, tell us about this.
I realized the importance of networking, both within and outside of my company. Internal networking helped me figure out the easiest and most efficient way to get a job done. I highly recommend that new retail dietitians seek out an internal mentor to help them learn the ropes of their specific organization as well as a retail dietitian mentor whose company is not in competition with yours. This way you can avoid reinventing the wheel and not make the same mistakes that others have made in the past.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
Learning opportunities abound at nutrition and retail dietitian-focused conferences, expos, webinars, and workshops. I take advantage of as many of these events as possible. It is a great way to network with other retail dietitians and vendors and share ideas and experiences with one another.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
I am thrilled to be introducing a new program to our Family Fare stores, called Cooking Together Cooking Forever (CTCF). This web-based program is designed to help parents and educators teach kids basic cooking skills, while helping our stores reclaim consumer dollars spent in restaurants. The Michigan PTA has endorsed the program and is excited to introduce it to their constituents. The goal is to get parents in the kitchen with their kids and eat more healthful, home-cooked meals as a family. We are launching the program to be utilized in the 2013-2014 school year.
CTCF includes several engaging educational videos, support materials for parents and teachers, recipes, nutrition resources, deals on groceries and cooking utensils needed to follow along with the program, and more.