Web Exclusive

A Fresh Take on Retail Nutrition Education
Undeterred by the pandemic, Stop & Shop’s Nutrition Partners program takes customer nutrition counseling and education virtual.
By Hadley Turner

Like many of us, Allison Delaney, MS, RD, LDN, had big plans for 2020. As the retail dietitian program lead for Stop & Shop, a grocery chain with more than 400 locations throughout New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, Delaney proposed a nutrition education program called Nutrition Partners for Stop & Shop customers in late 2019. By early 2020, the program was all set for an April launch. Then the pandemic hit.

Instead of putting off implementation, Delaney, who’s been with Stop & Shop for six years, reimagined Nutrition Partners, pivoting the program to a completely virtual experience that now includes weekly live webinars, a library of educational handouts and videos, and consultations with Stop & Shop’s team of RDs—all free of charge. Today’s Dietitian (TD) speaks with Delaney to learn how she made this remarkable program work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

TD: Why did you decide to start the program, and how did it develop?
Delaney: At the end of 2019, we [at Stop & Shop] started having some conversations about how we define health as a company and how we can be an educational resource for our customers with regard to health and wellness. While many people look at Stop & Shop as their go-to grocery store, health and wellness is not always the first thing people think about when they shop our stores. But we have an abundance of health resources, like onsite pharmacies staffed with trained and trusted pharmacists, and so our main mission was to make that known to customers. Our overarching goal was to make healthful eating accessible to all of our customers, regardless of what their budget might be or how much free time they have.

With that in mind, I started building out a proposal for this dietitian program. We hired our first dietitian in April 2020 and launched shortly after. Now, we have two full-time, customer-facing dietitians and myself running the behind-the-scenes operations.

But obviously our launch was right in the midst of COVID; there was a moment of panic, of “Oh, this is going to derail everything,” but we ended up in an extremely fortunate position: We’re running a fully virtual dietitian program and are meeting people where it’s convenient for them right now, which is online, in their homes. It [also] ended up being a great opportunity for us to provide an abundance of health and wellness resources to our customers when they were at a time of uncertainty, where they’re thinking, “I’m home and my kids are here and I don’t know what to feed them,” and/or “I don’t know what to cook for myself.”

TD: What services does Nutrition Partners offer, and who is the audience?
Delaney: We have a couple of core services right now, all of which are completely complimentary for everyone. The first, and definitely the most popular, are our educational webinars. We have eight different topics that we cover every week. These range from healthful eating on a budget, meal planning 101, kids’ nutrition, eating for diabetes, eating for heart health, and other topics. All webinars end with a Q&A panel discussion where customers can chat in their questions—anything they have—such as, “my kid is a picky eater and refuses to eat vegetables. Do you have any suggestions for how to help?” or, “what are some good low-sugar yogurt options?” They’re 30 minutes long and are held on Zoom. The content remains the same weekly, so people can just choose a week that works for them, and then every quarter or so we completely switch out the content we’re offering. We launched the webinars at the end of June, and we’ve had just under 1,000 customers participate in them.

Our second-most-popular offering is one-on-one personal consultations with a dietitian. Again, they’re completely complimentary. Customers can meet with a dietitian on Zoom for 15 minutes or 30 minutes depending on whether it’s a simple question or they want more detailed meal planning advice. This service provides a great opportunity for personalization—it allows for the dietitians to truly understand our customers’ needs and thus provide the best nutrition education. We currently conduct about 10 to 15 one-on-one consultations per week.

In addition to offering education to our customers, we develop wellness programming for organizations in the communities we serve: local YMCAs, weight loss and weight management groups, Boy Scout troops, Girl Scout troops, mom groups, Overeaters Anonymous groups, Boys and Girls Clubs, or after-school programs.

We have a lot of other content, too. We do cooking videos and share educational information on our various social media platforms.

TD: How have customers responded to Nutrition Partners’ offerings?
Delaney: We have a survey that goes out to all participating customers, and we’ve had over 100 responses so far. Ninety-five percent of customers learned something new from our services, and 96% would recommend the program’s services. We are very proud of those numbers!

The majority of the feedback we’re receiving from customers is overwhelmingly positive. Some have said, “I’ve been wanting answers to my specific questions for years and I don’t know where to go. And you, in a 15-minute session, have just really made me feel better about my choices for my family.” We’ve had people say, “You changed my life,” “I’m so much more confident in grocery shopping and food choices.” A lot of comments discuss how confusing it was before to shop for healthful products. I think we all can relate to that; there’s 50 brands of yogurt out there now—so just having that extra help about what’s best for them has been overwhelmingly positive.

The positive feedback has exceeded my expectations. I knew customers wanted this—that’s why we built it—but it’s been really neat to see. Right now, people are more eager than ever to be healthy—whether they have put on weight during quarantine, or simply want to eat better to boost their immune system, our program is particularly fitting given the current circumstances.

TD: What’s next for Nutrition Partners, and how might the program change once the pandemic is less of a threat?
Delaney: We think about this all the time, and know for certain that we will never walk away from virtual services; even when people go back to work and go back to school, the virtual model will remain the core of our program.

There are two services that we will try to include as soon as it is safe for us to be in stores: product samplings and grocery store tours. Just being able to help customers shop healthy and build a positive relationship with them not just virtually, but also within our stores is really important.

We are really excited with how quickly this program is growing and can’t wait to share with you what comes next. Check us out on stopandshop.com/nutrition.

— Hadley Turner is associate editor for Today’s Dietitian and RDLounge.com.