Once again supermarket dietitians are making big news. Last week, USA Today did a feature on retailers and their hiring of supermarket dietitians to combat the obesity problem in America. Since the late 1990s, the hiring of supermarket dietitians has grown exponentially. With this type of growth in the field, it’s important to understand the pioneering history of the supermarket dietitian and the contributions to consumers health at point of purchase throughout our history. Since March is National Nutrition Month, I want to showcase dietitians who have helped pave the way for today’s dietitians throughout the country helping consumers at point of purchase.
There are many inspirational people who started bringing health and nutrition to life in the supermarket. Many of them were home economists, but a select few were dietitians. Gerri Seinberg is a dietitian who worked for a chain called Food Fair out of Pennsylvania. She started as a test kitchen director in 1967. Her main job was to publish weekly menu planners with recipes and worked at promoting their private label brands. When nutrition labeling laws came into play, she contributed to analyzing private label products. As her position grew, Gerri became involved more in quality control and development of private label products, answering consumer complaints, and preparing weekly publications. Once supermarkets became involved with prepared foods, her training in food preparation prepared her for a new position in Deli Operations. In this position, she wrote several manuals and merchandising programs for the deli and bakery and trained staff in about 500 stores. When Food Fair went bankrupt, Gerri moved to Florida and worked for Pantry’s Pride & Sun Supermarkets in deli operations and then onto Xtra Supermarkets as the Director of Bulk Foods. At Xtra Supermarkets, she increased gross profits from 8% to 28% and updated the appearance and merchandising of their departments.
After 28 years in the supermarket industry, Gerri went on to contract with companies like Black and Decker, Sunbeam, Sweet N’ Low, GE, and KitchenAid, among a few. Today, Gerri is retired but volunteers in community affairs. She still develops and tests recipes for an e-zine, Sucree.
So how does this apply to today? Gerri’s training as a dietitian gave her skills to contribute to more than one department. Her skills let her branch out into many venues within the supermarket, and there is much to be learned from that. As with many chains, a supermarket dietitian’s position is unique to each retailer. Many make it up as they go along. Gerri’s experience can apply to today’s supermarket dietitian by thinking outside the box and asking themselves how they can make an impact within more than just marketing, communications, and pharmacy. Several supermarket RD’s are all ready doing this in product labeling and regulatory issues, but it’s an intriguing concept not only to have a supermarket dietitian as a corporate merchandiser for a supermarket, but even to have them as a president or vice president.
Stay tuned for more dietitians to be featured in this series. A special thanks to Gerri Seinberg for contributing her experience and valuable history.