RD Close Up: Molly Hembree, RDN, LD, Retail RD Coordinator, The Little Clinic of Kroger
By 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 started with Kroger in 2011 after needing a break from long-term care clinical dietetics. I saw a posting for a “call center dietician” and was intrigued. For the first five years at Kroger I worked with two other dietitians and a home economist at “Kroger Customer Connect” to answer advanced product and nutrition questions about our Kroger brands.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Finding our place in the industry and gaining foothold in the organization. It seems obvious to us as dietitians that an expert in nutrition meshes perfectly with the grocery industry; however it’s still newer ground and requires gentle reminders to non-dietitians we work around.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
I learned so much in my first role for almost 5 years about food science, customer service (namely de-escalation!), agriculture, and labeling requirements. I sure wish there would have been a couple courses in my undergraduate dietetics program that covered more of these topics.
Has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
In my new role as of January 2016, I act as a retail dietitian coordinator for the Columbus, OH, region. I cover three stores (Gahanna, Grove City, and Brewery District) and my primary role is to deliver fee-based private nutrition services to patients/customers. To obtain these patients, I have learned quite a bit in taking a grassroots approach to marketing or what I call “friendly coercion” in sharing the good news about expert nutrition services right where people grocery shop.
I can say humbly that my progression in my career is very fitting to my abilities. For instance, I don’t feel I would have been able to respond with poise to upset customers at the call center when I was a fresh dietitian in long-term care, and similarly I don’t feel I would have been able to help patients discover the deeper meaning of their relationship with food and their motivation to change their health outcomes when I was inside the walls of the call center.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
Currently, my most useful skill set are counseling and public speaking skills. I thought I understood what it meant to have good communication with customers to evoke behavior change while I was in the call center, but I was just scratching the surface. Leaders in the field like Molly Kellogg, RD, LCSW and Ellen Glovsky, PhD, RD, LDN have provided guidance through their listservs, calls, and books/book suggestions that have empowered me to have open and honest conversations with patients (and even just with customers and associates in the store!).
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives of which you are most proud.
I am really excited about the success we’ve seen this year with our 90-Day Weight Loss Program. This was introduced as a dietitian service in January 2017 by Allison Kuhn, MS, RDN, LD and Eileen Myers, MPH, RDN, LDN, CEDRD, FAND. As of November 25th, 146 total patients have participated in the program and the patients I have worked with have lost between 4.2 and 26 pounds! I think it illustrates well that an actual program rather than a “visit or two” is what is needed for many people to see true health and eating behavior changes.