RD Close Up: Beth Dokolasa, MA, RD, Natural Grocers
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
After my dietetic internship at the James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa, I moved to Denver. At the time, Natural Grocers was primarily located in Colorado, so it was new to me, along with the concept of having a staff Nutritional Health Coach (NHC) at each store that offers free one-on-one coaching sessions, in-store classes, and presentations out in the community. The variety seemed like a great way to expand my skillset as a new RD. I applied for a position up in the mountains near Breckenridge and I spent 2.5 years as the NHC there. Then I moved back to Denver to work at their corporate office and have been here serving in different capacities ever since.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Having to think on my feet, literally! I learned so much from researching and answering customer questions. I could have an in-depth conversation with a customer about omega-3s and then turn around to find a customer wanting to know more about probiotics and fermented foods. Working with customers from all walks of life helped sharpen my communication skills as well as my ability to explain some of the more complex nutrition principles.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
Having read many other Registered Dietitian profiles, it seems like a common trend is that we wish we knew more about business and marketing, and I definitely fall into that camp. When I was in school, there was a lot of focus on clinical and food service, and social media also wasn’t really a thing, so those topics never came up. It is not only important to have an understanding of business and marketing in order to effectively communicate with our customers; it is also essential to be able to tie our nutrition education programs into overall business goals and develop effective tracking measures.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
When I was in school, I never saw myself working in retail or in sales, and didn’t foresee myself making a career of it. However, even just a few weeks into my training with Natural Grocers, I completely changed my perspective for many reasons. First, people have to eat, so they might as well buy their groceries from a place that has some of the highest standards and most affordable prices. By marketing my Nutritional Health Coach services and educating the public about food quality and about Natural Grocers, I learned that I really was doing them a good service and positively impacting their health (and wallet)! Another reason I quickly developed a love for retail is because you get to focus a lot on preventative health which is so important and very rewarding.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
I am eternally grateful for the amazing support Natural Grocers has put behind our Nutrition Education Program. We have a whole Nutrition Education team who focuses on reviewing the latest nutrition research as well as the “fads” to ensure NHCs and the stores have the most accurate information and can communicate effectively with our customers. NHCs get 164 hours of PAID continued education every year, so I always feel confident speaking with customers and the public on any health topic.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
As much as I love educating our customers and the public, I am also extremely proud of our Employee Nutrition Education Program. Employees are paid on the clock to attend nutrition education presentations from the store’s NHC, they complete e-learning nutrition courses on the clock, and we have quarterly Employee Nutrition Challenges where they can earn extra money to spend in the store on top of their discount - and that’s just to name a few of the great opportunities in place!
Beth Dokolasa is a Registered Dietitian and Instructional Developer for Natural Grocers. Having worked in the natural foods and dietary supplement industry since 2010, Beth has seen the public’s excitement and interest in organic and natural foods grow along with a huge desire to learn more about their food supply which inspired her to pursue an MA in Communication Management: Learning and Development from the University of Denver on top of her BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Illinois – Urbana. By incorporating education techniques that motivate and empower adult learners, Beth is able to support her shoppers and employees in making positive health changes.