Retail Dietitian Close Up : Alessandra Barba, B.Sc., R.D. Provigo Le Marché
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
I work at a chain in Québec, Canada called Provigo Le Marché, which is a division of Loblaw Companies Limited. My role is to provide in-store nutritional services to both customers and employees: individual consultations, personalized ‘shop with the dietitian’ store tours, classes and healthy food demonstrations. These services are offered free.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
I had a bit of a unique experience when diving into the retail world. Loblaw had started their In-store Dietitian Program in 2011 in Ontario, and first introduced it in Québec in 2013.
When I first began, there was a huge learning curve for everyone. My biggest challenge was getting the word out about my role, but ultimately the response from the public and my company, turned this challenge into a great success.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
I think any dietitian going into retail needs to understand that that the industry comes with its own ‘language’. As dietitians we are conditioned to speak in terms of scientific evidence, often in a very clinical way. In the retail world, ‘budgets’, ‘competitive edge’, ‘sales’, and ‘customer loyalty’ are all buzz words that will get your message to resonate with operators. I was fortunate enough to have a father working for a large retail company for over 30 years to help school me on what resonates with management. This is an important message for aspiring retail RDs: learn the language!
Has there been anything specific that has held you back? If yes, tell us about this and how you dealt with it.
I think being the only dietitian working in a grocery store in my entire province definitely came with its own bag of tricks! Promotion on a wider scale was obviously limited since it wasn’t a service being widely offered across our banner. This gave me the opportunity to ‘wear many hats’: to not only be a dietitian but to be a spokesperson and an advocate for the program.
What I’ve realized is that sometimes you will be fighting against the proverbial current of the business- especially when things like budget are looked at from such a fine lens. It’s important to keep your head up and know your value, to continually communicate your successes with your retail team so that you and your services are top of mind. If you do enough good work of promoting yourself to your colleagues, they will then in turn start to approach you and think of you for projects.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
I think some of the things that have helped me the most in this role are the experiences in my life outside of being a dietitian. My previous retail experience taught me the basics of customer service and sales, both which proved to be absolutely crucial in my domain.
In addition, one of my passions has always been performing and I was in the improvisational acting team in high school. Although seemingly just a mere passion, being able to stand on stage with no script, prepared me excellently for a new role which no one had done before in my province. I am at ease being thrown into a situation with new challenges.
I believe that if you are following your passions and curiosities outside of work, although they may seem unrelated, they can give you a huge edge in providing complimentary skills at work.
Tell us about one of your programs that you are most proud of.
I think one of my recent initiatives that I am most proud of is a ‘Healthy Selfie’ competition that I held in one of my stores. I was inspired by our generation of ‘instagrammers’ who constantly snap photos of their plates, so why not capitalize on that! Employees would gain points for following the plate method, for snapping photos of them doing activities, etc.
Alessandra Barba, B.Sc., R.D.
Registered dietitian and member of l’ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec (l’OPDQ), Alessandra has a passion for nutrition, healthy living, and for helping people achieve their personal goals. She is a graduate from McGill University and was nominated by her peers to represent her graduating class as valedictorian. Alessandra has a multitude of experience with different clinical specialties, including weight loss, geriatrics, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sports nutrition, among others. Alessandra has had multiple appearances on the radio and television to discuss nutrition and health. She is currently working as in-store dietitian at Provigo Le Marché at the Kirkland, Vaudreuil and Pierrefonds locations in Montreal. Don’t hesitate to contact her with questions at email@example.com