An Island’s Agents of Change: The First Retail Dietitians in Puerto Rico
AM Inc., which operates three supermarket stores on the northwest side of Puerto Rico, has launched the first retail RD program in their country. Today, we learn more about their program.
How did your retail RD program start?
Our three stores have always stood out from the rest by providing a one stop-shop for all that is healthy, organic and natural. Our 500 employees serve a population whose cultural food preferences must be respected but that are also more and more concerned with their health and wellbeing. In 2014, our leadership and purchasing department began aggressively exploring new and specialized products that will later become our “specialties” department. Our customers helped the specialties department evolved into something else, unexpected. As the new products thrived, the demand for healthier, natural and clean label products grew.
As our natural and organic products offer grew, we realized that we were no longer a “big pantry,” we were something more. Early in 2015, right after attending several industry conferences, the Healthy Path philosophy becoming our newest and most innovating product category so far. The much-needed Healthy Path Market (HMP) transformation became aligned with our customers’ tendencies to make better food choices, but current, relevant and evidence based nutritional information was scarce. As the company became aware of the increased need of accurate nutritional information it realized that only a dietetics department with dedicated registered dietitians, support personnel and purchasing department would complete the vision.
Now, our mission went beyond making food available to consumers – it extended into providing all necessary tools for the consumers to make educated choices about what food best fits the dietary needs of their families. For our company, promoting health by influencing food choices towards a balanced eating was a business model that just made sense.
Our Healthy Path Market Department includes Champions in Enid Barillas, CEO/COO and Francisco Barillas, CFO, Purchasing and Marketing Support from Yelitza Lopez, Purchasing Director, and our Dietetics Department of Marisa Santiago RD, LND & Melanie Lopez LND.
What is the role of your retail dietitians?
The Healthy Path Market Dietetics Department, unique in Puerto Rico, is composed of two dietitians, dedicated support personnel and enjoys the support of the marketing and purchasing department. Among the services provided are in-aisle nutritional counseling, individualized nutritional interventions, supermarket tours, participation in community events, working with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club to spread the word of the services we are providing, alliances with local universities, health screenings, and healthy recipe demonstrations. In our Healthy Shopper Booth, held several times per month, we invite our customers to try our favorite Healthy Shopper products as they learn how to incorporate them in their diets. In only 6 months, our weekly e-Newsletter reaches about 3,000 subscribers with our original nutritional articles, recipes, the events calendar and of course the Healthy Shopper. Becoming a dietetic internship practice center has given us the opportunity to train future registered dietitians.
Tell us about a program of which you are most proud.
Our most successful community intervention has been, without a doubt, the Kids Eat Right Program. With the Kids Eat Right Program (that started this last August with Kid’s Eat Right Month) and through community alliances with school, churches, after school clubs and health care facilities, we have been able to connect with hundreds of children in our community and to offer activities where we have promoted the development of culinary skills, eating more fruits and vegetables, and savvy snacking.
What has helped your program gain momentum and success?
To be innovators and to implement change has not been an easy task. Directly working with the purchasing department provides the program with invaluable support, since it tirelessly evaluates and incorporates new, solution oriented, products. Having both departments, Dietetics and Purchasing, working together provides a wider vision and a symbiotically beneficial relationship, useful for event coordination, determining competitive prices, and the introduction of the Healthy Shopper (our successful marketing strategy). Employee involvement has also proven to be so important that Enid Barillas, one of the program’s architects and CEO, designed and implemented HPM Level I Introduction trainings for our employees. This is the first of three levels certification program.