When consumers are looking to take the first step toward a healthier lifestyle, the supermarket beckons.

After all, you can’t out-train a bad diet, and where else are you going to stock up on the everyday essentials that are the basis of better wellbeing?

But retailers are no longer just content with setting out fresh foods and hoping shoppers make good, informed decisions. Today’s supermarket can be one of a consumer’s strongest partners on the journey to improved health and nutrition.

“We are here for our customers,” says Lauren Tulig, a certified Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist (RDN) who works for De Pere, Wisconsin-based Festival Foods. “We really see ourselves as a partner it helping people find achievable ways to live longer, healthier, happier lives.”

And shoppers are on board.

When Pollock Communications and Today’s Dietitian released their list of 2019’s top superfoods, they also noted what they called “a shocking switch.” Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists (RDN) surveyed for the report predicted that a healthier label will begin to surpass cost and taste when it comes to consumer purchase drivers.

“It’s not that ‘clean eating’ has declined in popularity,” says Jenna Bell, senior vice president of Pollock Communications, based in New York City. “We are still seeing the consumer push for cleaner labels and the industry continues their work to deliver it. But what’s different here is that millennial consumers are going beyond eliminating a food group, like cutting gluten, to making more drastic changes that require real lifestyle adjustments.”

Mealtime Mentors 

Festival Foods —which operates 31 locations throughout Wisconsin — gets the most out of its RDNs. Not only do they perform the normal tasks of working with store department heads in catering to dietary needs, building healthy prepared food options and more, they also serve as the company’s Mealtime Mentors.

As the Mealtime Mentors, Festival Foods’ RDNs offer consumers support in everything from making delicious meals in 20 minutes to getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables to helping transition to a new way of eating.

“We’ve been able to help people in our community find ways to improve their daily lives and that’s really rewarding,” Tulig says. “We can help people get back into the kitchen and get them learning and exploring and loving new foods.”

Consumers can contact the Mealtime Mentors through Festival Foods’ website, or through the company’s active social media presence. Tulig and Jenni Dreyer maintain their own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest pages to interact with consumers, answer questions and offer tips and ideas.

Festival Foods’ RDTs also maintain a presence outside of the store, appearing on regional television programs to share advice as well as offering health and wellness presentations and educational opportunities to customers at no charge.

Another key part of the Festival Foods website is its Peak This Week page, where the company highlights its produce department, telling shoppers what’s in season and at it’s prime, and what’s not. Consumers can browse through sections like Areas To Watch, Upcoming Peak, In Season/At Peak and Out Of Season to plan their produce purchases in advance.

A recent Peak This Week page, for example, highlighted New York McIntosh apples, which were getting ready to hit Festival Foods shelves as the supply of Wisconsin McIntosh apples were drying up.

Publix personalizes nutrition

Publix, the popular Southeastern retailer headquartered in Lakeland, Florida, not only employs registered dietitians, they offer said dietitians’ services to their consumers through personalized programs.

The company offers a pair of customized weight loss programs. The first includes 12 weeks of guidance for $200, during which time the consumer gets initial and follow-up counseling, shopping assistance with Shopping Smart group tours, meal planning, ongoing weigh-ins, one-on-one monthly check-ins, recipes and more.

Publix also offers a number of other plans. Some focus on dietary needs, such as the gluten-free packages, while others are tailored to specific health concerns, like the heart health package or the diabetes program.

The sports nutrition package, meanwhile, caters to athletes who need the right balance of nutrition before and after workouts to provide energy and assist with recovery. The Publix dietitians provide a personalized nutrition plan, education on tools that may help maximize performance, counseling, meal planning and shopping assistance.

All of the packages come with a $10 Publix gift card.

Interactivity through multiple channels

Whole Foods Market, based in Austin, Texas, regularly offers interactive events with its instore dietitians to help educate shoppers.

A recent functional nutrition demonstration at a Tennessee store stressed the importance of selecting the most nutritionally dense sources and eating healthier for life. Consumers learned how to incorporate super foods such as cacao and maca into their diets with engaging and easy recipes.

But Whole Foods also maintains a deep online library of content from its RDNs. Regular posts on Whole Story, the company’s official blog, deal with health-related matters and include writings from many Whole Foods experts.

As football season approached, for example, Kathy K. Downie, one of the company’s RDNs, shared a post that included favorite healthy tailgating options from some of Whole Foods’ chefs, directors, nutritionists and more. The post included recipes and tips, like having fresh cilantro sprigs and thinly sliced red onion and lime wedges to boost chili, and insider knowledge like calling your local store to inquire about availability of fresh jackfruit for a meatless BBQ option.

Community education

Kowalski’s Markets, based in Woodbury, Minnesota, takes a hands-on approach with community involvement and educating the public — especially younger shoppers — about healthful eating and the importance of food in American culture.

The company partners with Sue Moores, an award-winning registered dietitian who serves as the executive director of Roots for the Home Team program. The initiative provides a creative vision for helping young people change the food landscape while giving them new tools and opportunities.

The six-year-old program features a number of projects, including an urban garden in downtown Minneapolis, where children learn about growing their own fruits and vegetables, as well as helping kids create healthy recipes for salads, which are sold during Minnesota Twins games at nearby Target Field.

Perimeter prescriptions

While it’s not exactly a part of the fresh perimeter of the supermarket — perhaps more perimeter adjacent, if you will — retailers are finding value in bolstering their pharmacy offerings.

Publix, for example, offers its Sync Your Refill program, which helps customers with synchronization of their medications to be refilled on the same day of the month. With the program, Publix pharmacists are better equipped to engage with consumers to discuss patient care and activities, such as immunizations, medication changes, consultations and medication adherence.

“As both a supermarket and pharmacy, we are focused on providing convenient programs and services to our customers,” says Maria Brous, Publix media and community relations director. “Our Sync Your Refills program is designed to respect the time of our customers and continue to build on a strong relationship between patient and pharmacist. Prescription synchronization assists in medication adherence for happier, healthier customers.”