Retail Dietitian Close Up: Claudia Rios, Northgate Gonzalez Market
Claudia Rios is Northgate Gonzalez Market’s very first Registered Dietitian. Her main role is to support Northgate’s own Viva La Salud program which seeks to promote optimal health and wellness to Northgate employees, customers, and the community through in-store events including health screenings and nutrition classes. She enjoys being able to provide culturally appropriate nutrition information to the Latino community in their own language. Claudia is grateful for the opportunity to work with Northgate Gonzalez Markets because she believes that every shopping trip is a chance to make healthier choices.
Born and raised in Los Angeles County, Claudia grew up understanding the value of speaking Spanish fluently. She visits family in Mexico frequently and tries to stay current with food trends. She enjoys promoting the healthy side of Mexican food, which includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and exciting combinations of herbs and spices for flavor.
Claudia graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of California Los Angeles. She received her Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Los Angeles and she completed the coordinated dietetic internship through the same school. Prior to joining the Viva La Salud team, Claudia worked for a meal delivery service for people with life-threatening conditions coordinating special diets and counseling clients.
Claudia enjoys teaching herself how to cook and sharing pictures of healthy and enticing foods. She loves yoga, running along the beach, and spending time with family and friends.
Tell us a little bit about Northgate Gonzalez Markets.
Northgate Gonzalez Markets is a family owned retailer that began with a single store in Anaheim, California in 1980. To date, there are 38 stores in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego. Northgate Gonzalez Markets are known for their high quality produce, service meat department, bakery, tortilleria and prepared foods departments. They’re also the go-to store for imported Latin American grocery items that customers seek out to keep their meals tasting like home.
What’s the story on your experience in retail and your position with Northgate Gonzalez Markets?
Before working for Northgate Gonzalez Markets, I worked for a non-profit meal delivery service for people with life-threatening conditions in Los Angeles County. I conducted nutrition assessments via telephone with the clients using information provided by the referring physician. Many of the conditions the agency served were conditions for which a healthy diet can have a significant impact in preventing or managing the disease. My time with the agency allowed me to see firsthand how important prevention is, and a Hispanic supermarket seemed like the perfect setting to promote healthy eating.
I’ve always had an appreciation for authentic Mexican cuisine made with fresh ingredients, herbs, and spices. I wanted to celebrate healthy traditional food options that are familiar in the Hispanic community and introduce them to new, nutritious foods. In November 2012, I was hired as Northgate Gonzalez Market’s first Registered Dietitian through their established Viva La Salud Department which promotes health and wellness to employees and customers. Besides me, the Viva La Salud team includes owner Victor Gonzalez, Program Manager Teresa Blanco, and Project Manager Evelyn Gonzalez.
Being the only dietitian on staff, my responsibilities include a little bit of everything. I conduct in-store nutrition classes combined with cooking demos alongside our Chef Pablo Blanco. I’m also responsible for helping each department identify opportunities for healthier offerings, managing our nutrition shelf tag program, maintaining our Viva La Salud Blog and posting on social media.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Changing my work mentality from the academic and non-profit sectors to become more business minded was definitely a challenge. Also, as my retailer caters to such a culturally diverse population and has a strong cultural heritage itself, creating materials that work for everyone and delivering information in a way that everyone can relate to is challenging, but also fun and very interesting.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
I wish I had known that in the supermarket world, everything moves and happens very quickly. It helps to be able to improvise and think on your feet.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back? If yes, tell us about this and how you dealt with it.
The supermarket is a fast-paced environment, and there have been programs that we’ve implemented that seemed to have an impact on our shoppers, but they were difficult to continue for logistical reasons. Trial and error taught us to tailor programs to fit the flow of the supermarket and make them more effective.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward? If yes, tell us about this.
I’m fortunate to be working with a strong and proactive team and to have interdepartmental support.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
I am a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). At the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) 2013 in Houston, I attended the Food and Culinary Professionals Workshop, which was geared specifically towards supermarket dietitians. I also attended every session related to supermarket dietitians at FNCE. I subscribe to RDBA Weekly as well as other supermarket and foodservice publications.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
The initiative I am most proud of is having a presence in our hot deli department. We know our customers are pressed for time and they want quick meal solutions. Increasingly, they’re also looking for healthier meal options that don’t sacrifice on taste and tradition. I’m very excited to start introducing ready-prepared traditional dishes with healthier twists and to be able to use those foods as a teaching tool for building a healthy plate.