RD Close-Up: Ashley Martinez, MFN, RDN, LD, Category Manager, Retail Nutrition Solutions at Kroger
By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Please describe your role at Kroger.
Currently I work as a Category Manager for Retail Nutrition Solutions, managing our retail dietitians in our five regions, consulting on product development projects for the Kroger brand, and working with our meal kit team to provide Dietitian Pick options. In addition, I work closely with vendor partners on building health and wellness programs for our dietitians to execute at the store level. In a few short weeks, I am transitioning into a culinary RD role where I will work solely on crafting new recipes and products to showcase in our stores as “better for you” options.
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
It is a blessing to say I have been working for Kroger for 14 years! I started as an 8th grader bagging groceries for the company and never dreamed this company would continue to foster my growth and development into a career. After a few years as a courtesy clerk, I became a cashier and worked my way through college. As I was attending graduate school, I started working in bakery department to learn more about store operations, food allocations/ordering, and food production. This position was really where I developed valuable experience that continues to assist me in my current role today. During my last year of graduate school, I interned with Kroger and worked closely with the company on my thesis which researched the impact a nutrition expert can have on a customer’s purchase. When I graduated, Kroger was expanding their dietitian program. I was hired as a retail RD in January 2016.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Anytime you start a new program, there is a lot of trial and error. You may not have all the resources at the start but if you’re motivated and determined to excel the program, you will find a way to get the job done.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
Thinking innovatively is the key driver that every retail RD should keep top of mind. From the start, you have to create strategic programs that will achieve success and impact the larger business.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
Advocating for ourselves as dietitians can be challenging especially when we’re not often the first source that comes to mind when someone wants to learn more about nutrition. It has also been difficult marketing to many MD offices as some may not fully understand the value an RD can provide. We just have to keep advocating, have a larger voice, and show our outcomes more often.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
The support we receive from our vendor partners has absolutely moved us forward. They see the value our retail RDs not only on increasing sales, but improving the heath of their customers. They have continued to support us via retail RD tool kits, encouragement, and product samples.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
I am most proud of our Nutrition Counseling Program as we are now accepting insurance! This has helped us partner with local MDs more easily as well as provide affordable healthcare options for our patients. We want to show our customers/patients that Kroger is a health and wellness destination and we have all the resources available to manage health from our clinics to our pharmacists to our dietitians.