RD Close Up: Debra Heverling, MA, RD/LDN, Corporate Dietitian, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc
By RDBA Executive Director, Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
I entered the world of supermarket nutrition having never worked in retail. My path started with an undergraduate degree in psychology, then working as a health coach at an Employee Assistance Program, and eventually on to a graduate degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. After completing my degree, I worked in a medical office providing outpatient nutrition services. Part of my responsibilities were to offer family-focused nutrition education for a grant-funded childhood obesity pilot. Through the program, I offered grocery store tours to these families. It was a facet of the program that I greatly enjoyed, and I developed an interest in offering this type of community outreach on a larger scale. When the opportunity arose, I was hired as the Corporate Dietitian/Nutritionist for Associated Wholesalers, Inc., which has since been acquired by C&S Wholesale Grocers. During my tenure as C&S’s Corporate Dietitian/Nutritionist, I have been tasked to develop and operate our Eat Right for Life program, which is offered as a service to C&S’s independent retail business customers. I work with retail owners and their designated In-Store Champions to offer in-store elements and digital resources for promoting healthy living to their shoppers.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Coming from a clinical and coaching background in health & wellness has had its benefits, but the lack of experience in a retail setting has been challenging. Given that we service independent retailers, that also poses a challenge because there are no overarching corporate directives that the participating stores must follow to promote a comprehensive health & wellness program. I have had to set realistic expectations around each store’s focus on health & wellness for its shoppers; learning that it’s important to “meet the owners where they are” in terms of prioritizing health & wellness. A big part of my job is to educate them on trends and future directions for health & wellness in retail.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
I wish I would have had more knowledge of retail terminology and even a purchasing background. Just because you are a supermarket shopper, doesn’t mean you are prepared for the world of retail and wholesale operations.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
My role as a Corporate Dietitian does not offer me the latitude to personally interact with each of our retail customers in their stores. I have tried to overcome this by developing a network of point persons in every store (i.e. the owner and/or an In-Store Champion) and have worked hard to streamline methods to communicate with these individuals. Whenever possible, I offer turnkey promotional opportunities to help these individuals facilitate in-store health & wellness events with ease.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
I have learned to reach out to our retailers for their input. Again, I need to offer them a program that they can embrace and see value in providing to their shoppers. It has also been valuable to work with our procurement teams so that I can develop partnerships with the CPGs and vendors/brokers whose products we distribute. With the emphasis on healthier product lines and nutritional claims, I need to stay informed about new items so we can help to educate shoppers on their value in their diet.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
The Eat Right for Life program is really my baby. Before I was hired, there was no health and wellness service available to our independent retail customers. I have been able to develop weekly content for ad circulars, digital content to be shared on store websites and Facebook pages, and in-store signage to promote healthy living with new topics every month. We are currently moving toward a greater in-store health & wellness presence with the goal to offer a nutritional shelf tag program. I have also had the opportunity to take over editing/producing a recipes magazine offered to all independent retail customers (even if they are not participating in Eat Right for Life). Throughout my involvement with the magazine, we have offered tips on how to alter recipes to make them healthier.
Debra Heverling is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, with a background in outpatient nutrition and health coaching. Her first career was in mental health and through interactions with clients, she developed an interest in physical health and nutrition. While working full-time as a health coach, she went back to school and completed a didactic program in Nutrition & Dietetics at Immaculata University. Deb has been the Corporate Dietitian/Nutritionist for C&S Wholesale Grocers for almost 4 years. You can learn more about Deb and her programs at www.facebook.com/EatRightForLife and http://eatrightforlife.eatrighthealthyliving.com/.