Nutrition is a fascinating field to work in with an endless number of opportunities and different experiences. This week, I had the privilege of interviewing a supermarket dietitian who has had the chance to work with both a commercial grocery chain and a local natural market. Kristen Johnson, a dietitian for Mrs. Green’s Natural Market in the Chicago area, had some great insights into the wide variety of responsibilities that supermarket dietitians can experience.
1. You used to work at Meijer – a larger, conventional grocery chain. How is working for Mrs. Green’s – a local natural market – different?
Yes, much different but both experiences have been absolutely amazing! Being a supermarket RD is a unique position as you can really impact shoppers’ behaviors in the aisles.
With a large company like Meijer there was a lot of structure and many departments which made our jobs very efficient as we could focus most of our time on nutrition related events. We had an entire marketing team to help coordinate events, a social media team to promote our events, as well as a leader in the corporate office to help us grow with the company’s strategies. Because the company was so large and our dietitian team was all located in different areas, most of our communication was done via email vs. face to face. With only 5 dietitians to cover over 200 stores there were times where the traveling got to be exhausting. However, I definitely got see a lot of neat areas and meet lots of great people!
With Mrs. Green’s being such a small startup company and dietitians being a brand new thing there- I am not only the Dietitian but I am the PR, Marketing, Social Media, & customer service team. This has been very fun and entrepreneurial-like but it can also be very overwhelming at times. Much of my job right now is developing programs and materials for the company’s health & wellness strategy. I am very thankful for learning so much at Meijer since my Meijer job is how I got to where I am today. What I like most about Mrs. Green’s is that it is a natural and organic grocery store and everything is healthy, making it a RDs dream job! I have also learned so much about our Natural Living Department (supplements, vitamins, minerals, natural skin care, make-up, etc) which I think is important in being well-rounded, and learning how to keep the entire body healthy (inside & out). I also love that what I do depends on what I think is best for the store/company. The store RDs ultimately knows best about what works for the success of the store.
Overall, I think in any position it is important to have structure but still be able to influence certain decisions and share ideas as to what works for the company. Balance is key!
2. What do you feel is your most rewarding accomplishment in each job with Meijer and Mrs. Green’s?
At Meijer, we truly targeted the masses of people since we had the resources to participate in large community events. I learned a lot about how to manage my time effectively and made some really great relationships that I have brought with me to Mrs. Greens. One of my favorite accomplishments was developing a fitness program at Meijer using a variety of exercise equipment – all sold in store. (How to build your own home gym).
At Mrs. Green’s I have developed the entire RD program and have watched the store benefit from my efforts. It has been a very rewarding experience to watch the company grow and stand out as one of the newest natural grocers in the country. I have also been mentoring many dietetics students and allowing them to shadow me to see what life is like in the natural grocery world. It’s an eye opening experience for students. I have also helped many of the employees at Mrs. Green’s achieve a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and exercise.
3. What does a typical day look like for you at Mrs. Green’s?
Every day is different. I am usually out in the community 2-3 days a week doing presentations, lunch & learns, cooking demos, and attending meetings. I am in store about 2 days a week doing store tours, one on one nutrition consultations, meeting food vendors, and shopping/prepping for events. 1 day a week I work from home doing project work and working on blogs. It is sometimes hard to work in store as we don’t have an office or kitchen to test recipes and prep foods. My schedule is very flexible but the hours vary. Some days I work 9-5pm, 10-6pm, nights, or events on the weekends. However, it doesn’t really feel like work when I am having so much fun!
4. What skills do you have that you feel benefit you in being a supermarket dietitian?
Being social and being able to relate to people- You can’t be too extreme when it comes to nutrition & health- one step at a time and building habits is what works. It is also important to be creative and think outside the box. I also think having basic marketing skills definitely helps to understand how to promote your services. Most importantly you have to have a good knowledge about quality of foods vs. calories and know how to make healthy foods taste good (Basic cooking skills). A supermarket RD has to have a healthy relationship with all foods (meats, fish, dairy, grains, etc) to best relate to shoppers and help to explain how best to prepare specific foods.
5. I would love to be a supermarket dietitian. What would you recommend I do to prepare myself for this career path?
Shadow/intern with as many supermarket RDs as you can! The free work will pay off- I promise! Network, network, network! Join LinkedIn and RDBA (Retail Dietitian Business Alliance). It also helps to tour a variety of grocery stores to get a feel of trends and what shoppers are looking for.
When I was an intern I shadowed an RD at Meijer (Shari Steinbach) several times and knew it was the job for me. Shari was so inspirational and I could see the passion she shared in her work. I wanted that for myself seeing first hand that when you are passionate about what you do, success just follows. When I finished my internship Shari called me and offered me a temporary job with Meijer which ended up becoming a full time permanent position. She said “you just get this stuff and I know you would be a great fit.” Long story short I would have never known this was my calling if I hadn’t shadowed her and put myself out there.
I recently had an intern who “just gets it” and totally understands the supermarket field and how to relate with shoppers. I thought to myself, given the chance I would hire him in one second if we had an opening. Open minds are the best kind!
If you would like to see more from Kristen, check out her posts on Mrs. Green’s websites here. (http://mrsgreens.com/category/kjohnson/)
You can also visit her at the Mrs. Green’s Chicago location for answers to nutrition questions, educational classes, recipe demonstrations, and nutrition consultations.
Many thanks to Kristen for the opportunity to learn about her exciting career in retail.
All photos courtesy of Kristen Johnson, RD.
About the Author:
Katie Bain is a senior food and nutrition student at The University of Alabama. She is interested in working with community wellness or as a supermarket dietitian in the future. Since she was a very picky eater growing up, she loves to find simple ways to help other picky eaters get the best nutritional value possible from the foods they love.
In her spare time, Katie is very active at her church. She is a volunteer at the church’s community coffee shop and teaches Bible study every week. She has a passion for mission work and ministry and is excited for future opportunities to combine this love with her love of nutrition. She also loves spending time with her four younger brothers and sister as often as she can!