RD Close-Up: Dana McLaughlin, RDN, Manager of Health & Wellness, Inserra Supermarkets
By RDBA Executive Director, Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Please describe your role at ShopRite.
I am the Manager of Health and Wellness for Inserra Supermarkets. I oversee our Retail Dietitian program. We currently have 15 full-time registered dietitians on staff who provide nutrition and wellness services to customers, associates, and community partners of our 23 ShopRite stores in New York and New Jersey. I started as an in-store dietitian for two of our stores in 2014 and transitioned into a management position three years ago. Our team of dietitians offer nutrition counseling services, recipe demonstrations, assistance with meal planning, cooking and snacking classes, and grocery store tours. We also run associate wellness programs throughout the year and engage with our communities to provide nutrition lectures, seminars, classes and more in schools, senior centers, fitness centers, hospitals, and faith-based organizations. We assist with wellness-related product merchandising and displays at store level.
What's the story behind your experience in retail and how you came to work at ShopRite?
After completing my dietetic internship, I accepted a job as a clinical dietitian in an acute care facility and spent two years there. While I learned a lot and enjoyed the work, the position began to feel stagnant and not fulfilling fairly quickly. During my internship, I had spent two weeks shadowing a ShopRite dietitian and loved the experience, so when I noticed a job listing for a retail dietitian in my geographical area, I took a chance and decided to apply!
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
As a dietitian with a typical “Type A” personality, learning to be flexible, patient, and resilient was an initial challenge. When I first started as an in-store dietitian, the concept of having a dietitian working in a grocery store was still very novel to our organization, and it took time to build trust and gain the respect of managers and other store associates. Open communication with my team and other store associates has been key in ensuring success of the dietitian programs as well as establishing methods to demonstrate ROI and value of the program. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a unique set of challenges to our program. Our dietitians are currently offering mostly virtual services, so navigating new technology platforms and establishing relationships virtually has been challenging but exciting.
What is one thing you wish you had known before starting in retail?
I wish I had known that providing healthcare services in a retail environment would be so rewarding. It’s incredibly impactful to be able to educate shoppers on food and nutrition and its impact on one’s health and wellness at the point of purchase. Being surrounded by and talking about food all day is a dietitian’s dream job come true!
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
Striving for perfection and overthinking decisions before taking action has held me back in the past. Over the years, I’ve found that it is more beneficial and effective to take a shot and pilot new programs and strategies even if they are not guaranteed to be a perfect success rather than trying to plan out every little detail prior to execution of a new concept. The retail environment offers endless opportunities to impact the lives of our customers, and it is easy to become overwhelmed and paralyzed by ideas on how to do so!
Also, I tend to be an introvert, and when I first started in retail, learning to become comfortable with approaching customers and possibly facing rejection if they didn’t care for a recipe or product I was sampling or were not initially interested in speaking with a dietitian at the grocery store was challenging. I had to build up courage and practice this skill repeatedly and not take it personally when a customer was not interested in what I had to say. I gained so much confidence by engaging in conversations with customers during my years as an in-store retail dietitian, and this confidence has transferred over to my current role, where I frequently communicate with upper management, department merchandisers, and vendor partners to conduct business.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that help you moved forward in your role?
The support, guidance, and generosity of my boss, Lindsey Inserra, and the rest of the Inserra Family, is what I am most grateful for in my career. The trust that has been placed in me to manage the Inserra dietitian team has instilled self-confidence to establish myself in a leadership position as a young female in a male-dominated industry. The organization also supports continuing education and growth and has given me opportunities to attend conferences such as FNCE as well as a Dale Carnegie leadership course and the Rising in the Ranks program. In addition, the team of dietitians with whom I work inspire me on a daily basis. They are some of the most intelligent, driven and compassionate professionals I have encountered.
Is there a program or initiative of which you are most proud?
I am proud of all of the projects and programs my dietitian team executes, but one of my favorites is our Future Shoppers Program. Several of our dietitians partner with local elementary schools to teach monthly nutrition lessons to students throughout the school year. The program culminates at the end of the school year with field trips to ShopRite stores with a simulated budgeted shopping trip and stations around the store where the “Future Shoppers” complete various activities that demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired in the classroom with the dietitian. Students receive branded t-shirts, certificates of completion, a healthy snack, and a lunch to go featuring products donated by our vendor partners. We are evaluating how we may be able to execute the program partially or entirely virtually for this school year given the current circumstances.
Bio: Dana McLaughlin, RDN, is the Manager of Health and Wellness for Inserra Supermarkets, Inc. Dana oversees the wellness program for the company's 23 stores and supervises Inserra ShopRite's staff of 15 in-store Registered Dietitians. Dana completed her undergraduate degree in nutrition and public health from Boston University and completed a dietetic internship at the College of Saint Elizabeth in NJ. Dana was awarded as the Produce for Better Health Foundation's Supermarket Dietitian of the Year in 2016 and was named one of Today's Dietitian Magazine's "Top 10 Dietitians" in 2018. In her spare time, Dana enjoys spending time with family including her husband and son as well as cooking new recipes and exercising.