Retail Dietitian Close Up: Jessica LaRoche, Harmons Grocery

Retail Dietitian Close Up: Jessica LaRoche, Harmons Grocery

May 22, 2013
Retail Dietitian Profiles

Allison Beadle, MS, RD, LD
Editor, RDBA Weekly 

As an in-store dietitian for Harmons Grocery, Jessica enjoys the opportunity to help customers and associates lead healthier lives.  She develops wellness workshops and nutrition education information, co-teaches cooking classes with Harmons’ chefs, participates in community health fairs, and often appears on local television networks as a nutrition expert.

Jessica received her Master’s degree in Nutrition from the University of Utah in 2010.  Through the coordinated program, she had the chance to intern at Intermountain Mc-Kay Dee Hospital and the Gateway to Wellness Senior Clinic, as well as the State Board of Education.  She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and Utah AND as well as the Weight Management and Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition Dietetic Practice Groups.  In her free time, Jessica enjoys running the trails in the beautiful Utah mountains. 

1.  Tell us a little bit about your retailer.  (number of stores, locations, etc.)

Harmons Grocery is a family-owned and operated grocery store with 16 locations throughout Utah, from Ogden to St. George.  Harmons began as a single fruit stand in 1932 and today the same values, quality, and innovation established by Jake and Irene Harmon is carried into the fourth generation of the Harmon family. 

2.  What’s the story on your experience in retail and your position your retailer. (number of years experience, how you got into the field, reporting structure, your role/responsibilites, your team, etc.)

I was hired as Harmons first dietitian in February 2011.  To my knowledge, there are no other grocery stores in Utah that employ full-time, in-store dietitians, so I had no experience in this area to draw on.  Before I was hired, I was working as the Food and Nutrition Educator at a local hospital.  I was excited to make the jump to more preventive, community-based nutrition. 

Since Harmons did not previously employ dietitians, my first few months were spent learning about the business, consulting with dietitians at other supermarkets (they were extremely helpful!), and creating education materials and programs to offer the public when we opened our new Farmington, UT store.  There was a bit of a trial and error period after we opened to really key in on what our shoppers were interested in as far as services and health and wellness offerings.  

We had great success with our initiatives, and we now have three full-time, in-store dietitians!  We report directly to the store directors at our home-base stores, but we also travel to our other locations twice each month (except St. George, unfortunately).  We spend about equal time focusing on customer and associate initiatives.  A typical day involves everything from individual counseling to workshops, store tours, and cooking classes with our chefs.

3.  What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?

Learning the specifics of the retail industry and trying to quantify the return on investment of health and wellness initiatives.

4.  What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian

The impact that the media has on the public when it comes to nutrition advice.  It never ceases to amaze me how many questions I get about the new “it” product someone has seen on TV or read in magazines.  

6.  Has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?  If yes, tell us about this.

Our leadership has been extremely supportive and committed to health and wellness goals.  We are encouraged to think outside of the box and try new programs, and the community has responded positively to our efforts.

7.  What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?

I have been fortunate enough to attend various conferences and workshops, such as the FMI Health and Wellness Conference and Oldways Supermarket Dietitian Symposium.  The networking opportunities that these have provided are indispensable!  It is wonderful to share ideas openly with other dietitians in this small but growing field.

8.  Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.

Our Healthy Checkout Lanes.  We currently have four stores with a healthy checkout lane, with plans to have one lane in each of our locations.  We offer only snacks that meet the nutritional criteria we established as a team, with limits on saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and no trans fat or hydrogenated oils.  The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from our customers.  Mothers have told us that they will only checkout in those lanes because they feel good about letting their kids picking out a snack.  We offer everything from unsweetened applesauce and nutrition bars to fresh fruit and yogurt.