RD Close Up: Shannon McManus, RDN, LDN, Manager of Customer Wellness, Publix Super Markets, 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 started my career as a clinical dietitian. My clinical experience was very beneficial but I knew it was not where I wanted to be long term. Wellness and prevention were my passion. I started looking at non-traditional careers and came across a few retailers that had dietitians. I was intrigued and excited by what they were doing in the retail environment for their customers and associates. As a clinical dietitian, I saw a huge gap between the limited education we could provide as dietitians in that environment and the patient’s everyday life. Retail dietitians fill that gap. Soon after, Publix was looking to hire its first Corporate Dietitian, and I was fortunate to be offered this position. I spent seven years as Corporate Dietitian. During this time, the demand for nutrition expertise within Publix and within the industry grew. In 2014, I was promoted into my current role as Manager of Customer Wellness.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Currently, it would be creating meaningful consumer messaging that informs and engages but that also is within the guidelines and regulations that we are required to follow as a food retailer within an increasing litigious environment. In addition, like other environments in which dietitians work, it is hard to prove ROI in many cases. We add value, but unlike other categories within the store, our results aren’t necessarily directly tied to the sale of a product. This opportunity may make it more difficult to measure ROI at the corporate and in-store levels.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
I wish I had taken more business classes or at least had some basic skills in finance and marketing. We know nutrition, but we don’t necessarily have strong business skills. We can learn them, but it would have been easier and given me more confidence to have gone in with that knowledge.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
No, I don’t think that there has been anything specific that has held me back. As retail dietitians, we often have to be patient and persevere as we are building this role within our own companies and the industry. Sometimes, progress may take extra effort or time but I see it as a challenge and continue to push forward. When you look back, it is amazing to see all that we have been able to accomplish.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
I have been blessed to be surrounded by many supportive people that have mentored me at Publix. This support system and building relationships has helped me in my career. I also think that not being fearful of trying something new and never selling myself short of an opportunity. If you have passion and a vision for something, go for it and pursue it. Don’t think you can’t do it.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
In addition to staying abreast of the latest retail news and trends, I am always open to learning from those around me and others in the industry. Networking both internally and externally is very important. As I mentioned, dietitians in the retail industry are still fairly new, and while our fellow retail associates have a lot to learn from us, such as why we are here and how we can help, we also have a lot to learn from them about the industry and other aspects of the business. I make a real effort to take the time to listen to and learn from others first before trying to teach them about me and my role. I have also been fortunate that Publix offers a lot of in-house training and education, so I have taken advantage of those opportunities.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
As Manager of Customer Wellness, I am most proud of launching our in-store dietitian pilot and growing our team of corporate dietitians. We have grown from one dietitian to seven total. Besides myself we have two additional dietitians at Corporate who have taken our involvement across the company much farther than I ever could alone and four in-store dietitians providing nutrition services to our customers in the stores. You can meet the entire team at http://www.publix.com/pharmacy-wellness/wellness/publix-dietitians.