Home economists in the 1920’s were the first professionals employed by supermarkets for tasks such as product testing, recipe development and answering consumers’ questions. The modern-day retail RD emerged four decades later, according to Barbara Ruhs, MS, RD a Phoenix-based former corporate dietitian for Bashas’ and now a consultant for Irving, TX-based Avocados from Mexico. Considering that most, if not all RDs today have or will have a master’s degree, it makes sense to see a move into marketing managerial roles and for an RD to be on a pathway into executive management at the retail corporate level, says Ruhs.

“Originally, [brokerage] companies hired dietitians to work at retail,” says Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FADA, executive director of the 800-member Santa Monica, CA-based Retail Dietitians Business Alliance (RDBA) and PBH retail account manager. “After several years working in this format, many of the dietitians went internal to the retailers. Today, we know that retail RDs report through varying departments, with the most common being marketing or communications.”

Retail RDs are highly trained health professionals. To become an RD or RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) requires a 4-year bachelor’s degree, completion of an accredited internship of 1200 or more hours and passing a national exam administered by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to become registered. RDs are also required to maintain their credentialing by obtaining 75 continuing educate credits every five years. Starting in 2020, all new graduate RDs will require a master’s degree.

Currently, there are approximately 1,000 RDs employed by or consult with retailers in North America, according to the RDBA. Results of the recent FMI survey reveal that 85% of retail respondents reported employing RDs. Of these, 70% employ RDs at the corporate level, 27% percent hire them to work regionally and a small percentage retain RDs as consultants.

“As a retail RD, it is important to learn the retail language and share with my retailer how our team can be a value-added asset to the company and help improve the bottom line. Retail RDs need to be able to track and share return on investment (ROI) data in everything they do and how their involvement helps to increase sales and increase guest engagement,” says Amy Petersen, RD, LD, supermarket registered dietitian for Coborn’s, a 120-plus store chain based in Hastings, MN.


There are many ways grower/shippers and commodity boards can tap into the power of retail Registered Dietitian (RD) to promote sales and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We are extremely fortunate to work with a great many produce vendors that truly appreciate and understand the value that an in-store dietitian brings to the table,” says Shelbi Thurau, RD, retail dietitian supervisor for ShopRite, the registered trademark of Keasbey, NJ-headquartered Wakefern Food Corp, a retailer-owned cooperative with nearly 280 stores. “Where produce is concerned, our vendors support our dietitians in innumerable ways, from providing tool kits and handouts, to recipe books and other items that our team can share with our customers. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

  1. PROVIDE PRODUCT & INFORMATION. In October 2019, Stemilt Growers, in Wenatchee, WA, helped RDs at Coborn’s, a 120-plus store chain based in Hastings, MN, provided more than 2,000 apples for four elementary schools within a local school district, says Amy Petersen, RD, LD, supermarket registered dietitian. “This was the perfect way to help our dietitian team kick off a Healthy Eating School Challenge in collaboration with other community organizations. This giveaway, along with several other social media Stemilt promotions, resulted in more than a 2,900% increase in tonnage sold from prior year and a more than 1,700% increase in sales from the prior year.”

    Beyond this, Stemilt worked with several RDs this fall to promote its Rave apple, according to Brianna Shales, Stemilt’s senior marketing manager. “We had an East Coast RD utilize Rave in a fresh-chopped salad that the store sold in their food to-go section. We had a robust program with a Midwest retailer to feature Rave in educational sessions to their internal staff, to kids at local schools and even on a local television segment in a fresh salad recipe. We’ve found RDs make great extended brand ambassadors for our products. They know their shoppers and that serves suppliers like us well in ensuring that promotions are well-executed and the fruit sells through quickly.”

    Duda Farm Fresh Foods promoted its Dandy-brand celery as a sponsor of one of the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s Produce Pairings. The August promotion featured a back-to-school theme where both celery and a ready-made tuna salad product were used to make a quick snack idea. Cross-displays, recipe tear sheets, coupons, plus the Midwest chain’s RD’s FB live, media segments and recipe information in the retailer magazine lifted sales up to 150%.

    “We found the promotion was effective in driving trial, an incremental lift and continued sales,” says Nichole Towell, senior director of marketing for the Oviedo, FL-based grower/shipper.

    On the information front, the Los Angeles-headquartered Wonderful Company, via its pistachio products have, for example, partnered with Kroger RD’s on an important pilot initiative for a diabetes solution kit as well as worked with the RD team at Weis Markets each February for American Heart Month to share heart-healthy snack solutions for the Big Game through broadcast and online.

    The Irvine, CA-headquartered California Avocado Commission’s Superfood Spotlights feature avocado usage ideas and nutrition information, providing RDs with ready-to-use handouts that can be shared with shoppers at cooking classes, demos and other in-store and community events.

    The Dole Food Company, based in Westlake Village, CA, supports retail-level RDs with a variety of education materials including its Dole Health and Wellness brochure series, the Dole Nutrition Handbook and custom recipes for every occasion.

    “These materials are used during hands-on nutrition classes, consultations, in-store demos, blogger giveaways and hosted promos, new product showcases, and TV appearances to communicate the health and nutrition benefits of produce consumption and a plant-based diet,” says Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications.
  2. TAKE RETAIL RD’S OUT INTO THE FIELD. The California Strawberry Commission staff invited the 20-plus influential retail RD’s attending PBH’s 2019 Education2Action Retail Dietitian Event, held alongside the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in October, into the field — specifically, into a strawberry field.

    “Sponsoring an experience is how we help those who educate consumers how to incorporate more fresh produce into their diets to have a personal connection. To see first-hand how strawberries are grown, picked, packed, interact with the harvest crew, the grower and finally how they taste via a dinner in the field hosted by a local caterer,” says Christine Christian, senior vice president of the Watsonville, CA-based commission.
  3. HIRE AN RD. There’s a real value-add for produce companies to have an RD consultant or on staff. In fact, it can be a competitive advantage especially when selling to retailers that don’t have an RD.

    “Costco doesn’t have a corporate RD. However, they like to change their private-label avocado bags once or twice a year, and I work with them on that content,” says Barbara Ruhs, a Phoenix-based former corporate retail dietitian for Bashas’ and now consultant dietitian for Irving, TX-based marketing group, Avocados from Mexico.

    Three years ago, the Michigan Apple Committee named Shari Steinbach the ‘Official Dietitian of Michigan Apples.’ Steinbach, who worked as a retail dietitian first at Spartan Stores and then Meijer for nearly 30 years before starting her own consultancy, created a kit for RDs that provides information and resources about Michigan Apples.

    “For us, any time we can assist a retailer or provide resources to them, it reinforces our position as a good partner,” says Diane Smith, executive director of the Lansing, MI-based committee.