RD Close-Up: Andrew Akhaphong, RD, LD, Pn1, ACTION-CPT, Mackenthun's Dietitian
By RDBA Executive Director, Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Please describe your role at Mackenthun’s.
I am Mackenthun's sole registered dietitian covering three stores. My approach to delivering programming is different for each store. One store serves a community of middle-class families while the other two stores serve low-income communities that are in food deserts. My primary responsibility is to uphold our mission of creating an "Exceptional Experience and to promote the Health and Wellness of our customers and employees." This includes grocery store tours, food demonstrations and classes, community events and presentations, program collaboration with community partners, and outpatient counseling. In coordination with our Director of Marketing, we collaborate with vendors and department managers on marketing products to the consumer through multiple outlets. I also coordinate the Employee Wellness Program.
What's the story behind your experience in retail and how you came to work at Mackenthun's?
Mackenthun's Fine Foods has been a family-owned business in Minnesota since 1917. It started out as a butcher shop and expanded into a full-service grocer in the 1940s-1950s. Today, the operation is in its 4th and 5th generation run of the Mackenthun family. With the increasing competition from Hy-Vee and Coborn's, the family saw a need to change their mission statement in 2016. It integrated the importance of having a registered dietitian to assist in the company's navigation through changing trends and consumers’ desire for more options to support their wellness goals.
During my dietetic internship, my class had the opportunity to learn what a retail dietitian was at Giant Eagle in Columbus, Ohio. The experience blew my mind and I knew this was the field I needed to be in. Between 2016-2018 I was working for Hy-Vee as a part-time registered dietitian. During this time, a former classmate contacted me that she was going to join Mackenthun's as their first registered dietitian and asked for advice - she helped launch the dietitian program. In late 2019 Mackenthun's re-opened their registered dietitian position as my friend had moved on to work in pediatric dietetics. This was my shot and I landed it. I am very grateful for all of the connections I've had to help get me where I am in my career.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Because the Mackenthun's dietitian program is only four years old, the challenge is being able to promote Mackenthun's as a non-traditional outpatient location for nutrition services. I've had RDs and organizations elsewhere that have told customers, "Don't shop there. You won't find anything healthy." Some customers have told me they've been discouraged to see me and to continue their outpatient programming at their clinic or hospital. As healthcare providers, I think we forget what the model of "continuum of care" is. Nutrition education does not stop at a clinical inpatient/outpatient setting and I am here to continue to support the client's learning in a retail environment to ensure they find success in reaching their goals and maintaining that success.
What is one thing you wish you had known before starting your career in retail?
I wish I knew more about integrative and functional nutrition. There are consumers who would like to go that route and I don't have the best knowledge in guiding them safely while providing evidenced-based information on this topic. Consumerism is always evolving and the largest growth I have seen in my community is the desire to focus on fortifying the body with food versus supplementation or even traditional medicine. Food manufacturers have seen this increased desire as well resulting in new products fortified with "superfoods" like flax, kale, and probiotics.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
Before the Mackenthun's remodel of the main store, there was a classroom with a kitchen. The remodel removed the classroom to expand our produce and deli departments. If I am doing a food demonstration, I need to be mindful to keep it simple and not take up too much space in the aisle. Because I am the only registered dietitian in the company, I need to remind myself to provide support equally to all the stores and that each community responds to different types of programming. I survey the consumers and employees regularly to get a feel of what type of program I should have on the calendar or need to develop.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that helped you move forward in your role?
My passion for teaching. I didn't realize I loved teaching until I started my first role as a lead clinical dietitian (I came from a long line of teachers!). When I see patients re-admit to the facility for the same condition as before, I think to myself, "what am I not doing well to teach them" and I realized it is often the lack of sources and materials I had available. When I landed my first retail job at Hy-Vee, it was amazing to see how much impact I had on the consumers when I taught them about a new product, or how so-and-so supported their health. The whole grocery store was my tool and each day brought me joy and excitement.
Is there a program or initiative of which you are most proud?
I am really proud of the network I have built for our communities since starting at Mackenthun's. We are a collaboration of local pharmacists, chiropractors, physical therapists, personal trainers, social workers, nurse educators, and more. We work together to develop programs, presentations, and other educational materials for schools, sports teams, seniors, support groups, and even for our own businesses. When a client has a question that cannot be answered within our scope of practice, we refer that client to our network who can. It has been a great program as it gives these local businesses a chance to grow and give back to the community while supporting the Mackenthun's mission statement.
Please provide a short bio as well as your social media links.
Andrew Akhaphong, RD, LD, Pn1, ACTION-CPT was born and raised in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He completed his education through Minnesota State University - Mankato with a Bachelor of Science in Family Consumer Sciences and graduated from Bluffton University's Individualized Supervised Pathway Program for his dietetic internship. He holds a Certificate in Culinary Foundations from Escoffier International Culinary Academy, a certificate in personal training through ACTION, and is a Precision Nutrition Coach Level 1 through Precision Nutrition.