RD Close-up: Jennifer Hamm, RD, CDE, Sobeys
By RDBA Executive Director, Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Please describe your role at Sobeys.
I started as a Retail Dietitian with Sobeys in 2002. My role has evolved over the last 16 years. Overall, the responsibility of a Sobeys Dietitian is to provide dietitian services to our customers. Our menu of services is varied with the backbone being educational sessions hosted in-store in our community kitchens, on the retail floor and in our communities. Our main offerings include healthy cooking classes, healthy weight programs, cooking for better blood sugars (or heart health) and taste and learn classes. We also work with many community stakeholders such as health organizations and non-profit groups where we create partnerships and bridge any gaps in services by providing nutrition education and services. This may mean driving traffic to the store by hosting a class or store tour to presenting at their location. We also work very closely with our pharmacy teams and provide individual nutrition counselling services as well. I love the diversity in our role with Sobeys. We can be hosting a general class on avocado to a class on managing diabetes or providing a one-on-one counselling session with a customer with a food allergy.
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
Out of university I was looking for jobs in my city. I was ready for anything and the idea of dietitians in a grocery store was really brand new. I was excited to be part of “something” non-traditional as I saw it as an opportunity to be creative and this is highly rewarding for me. Once I started I saw the absolute need for my services and I loved the connection we made from more traditional nutrition recommendations to the practical side of what to buy or how to cook while living with a chronic disease. I always feel we have the best classroom available. I have worked in many different Sobeys store locations in my city. Currently I split my time between 2 locations.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
If I have to pick my biggest challenge over the past 16 years, it’s been solidifying and gaining the acceptance of the role of a Retail Dietitian. It was hard to believe, the amount of work it took, to establish a reputation as a competent dietitian when working in a non-traditional role. Acceptance from colleagues, other health professionals and employees as well as the quest of clarifying that question “what does a dietitian do in a grocery store?”
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
Bottom line – knowing more about business in general would have been advantageous.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
Something that I feel that was a roadblock along the way, and still can be, is the marketing of services. Specifically, getting the word out that Retail Dietitians are easy accessible in the community and what we have to offer! This is where I had to hit the ground running working on exposure of our services without a marketing budget. I really relied on word of mouth and building rapport and relationships (inside my store and out), which has led to an increase in demand for my services.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
Strong relationships, quality customer service and meaningful programming have been the driving force for program successes in my stores. Continuing education and staying on top of current nutrition and food trends is also key. This has helped me to remain a trusted health ally and a go-to for nutrition advice and insight.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
I get the most personal reward from a Mom & Baby Drop-In program I run in partnership with our Government Public Health Agency. It’s held weekly for 2 hours and families can have their questions answered by a Registered Dietitian or Public Health Nurse. Most importantly they can connect with other families in their community. We arrange a large area of floor mats and that is where the magic happens!
Bio: Jennifer Hamm, graduated from Mount Saint Vincent University (Halifax, Canada) with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Human Nutrition. She has been a practicing Registered Dietitian for 17 years and recently a Certified Diabetes Educator. She works and lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and loves to cook, travel and spend time with family.