December 2017 Issue

The Retail RD: Pursuing Professional Development
By Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN
Today's Dietitian
Vol. 19, No. 12, P. 16

In an increasingly strapped supermarket industry, retail RDs must advocate for their continuing education.

As retailers evolve to meet the demands of modern shoppers, retail dietitians will offer an important competitive advantage; but, as with any other position, they'll need to stay sharp in their professional knowledge and skills to do so. According to "U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2017," a report published by the Food Marketing Institute, consumers are invested in health and have a heightened awareness of food processing, packaging, and production now more than ever. Many retail RDs are helping retailers maximize the sale of high-margin fresh and perishable items and driving growth of healthful items found in the center of the store. In addition, retail dietitians are taking on greater responsibilities in food and merchandising, category management, marketing, social and digital outreach, employee wellness, community partnerships, and more.

Benefits and Challenges
Due to these important roles, it's becoming increasingly vital for RDs to maintain their credentials to offer the greatest value to their supermarket employers. There are a variety of valuable topics for retail RDs, including food labeling and regulatory issues; food trends; the impact of food processing innovation on nutritional quality and food safety; food and agricultural technology's impact on food systems, sustainability, and health; health marketing research; and strategies that influence shopper behavior.

Making the commitment to attend retail trade events, industry-sponsored food and farm tours, and nutrition conferences is difficult; retailers face increasing financial pressures, making it hard to justify time away from the office to focus on education and training. With skyrocketing health care costs and consumers seeking nontraditional sources of health information, food retailers now play an essential role in improving health care delivery. Retail dietitians influence millions of consumers with their programs, in-store activities, publications, media appearances, and more, and are a powerful force in transforming the health of American shoppers. Attending industry events enhances knowledge and skills that can improve customer engagement and has the potential to impact the sales of a variety of healthful foods.

Learning, Connecting, and Creating
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine published "Redesigning Continuing Education in the Health Professions," a report stating that lifelong learning activities should involve collaborative partnerships with public and private stakeholders to prepare health care providers to practice in an evolving health care environment. Although it's impossible to attend every conference or event, it's important for retail dietitians to plan their continuing education to gain exposure to a balance of retail, food, nutrition, and health topics that maximize their professional goals for the year. A 2016 article in the Harvard Business Review states that professional development takes three main forms: learning, connecting, and creating. The author encourages readers to ask themselves, "How can I ensure I'm more valuable at the end of the year than I was at the beginning?"1

Professional development is an opportunity to enhance your value at your current job, but it's also an important personal investment in your future. Work with your employer to create a mutually beneficial plan. Refer to your employee handbook for your workplace's policies and practices for professional development. Although many employers offer two to three days per year for professional development, in some cases you may need to use personal time or vacation time.

Windows of Opportunity
Throughout the year, retail dietitians are offered a wealth of opportunities to enhance their knowledge and skills and build their professional network. Nowadays, most of these educational opportunities don't require much out-of-pocket costs and offer valuable professional development time required for RDs to maintain their credentials.

— Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN, is a retail health expert to supermarkets and food companies and founder of the Oldways Supermarket Dietitian Symposium. Follow her @BarbRuhsRD.

1. Clark D. Plan your professional development for the year. Harvard Business Review. January 7, 2016. Accessed October 2017.