Retail Dietitian Close Up: Laura Holtrop Kohl MS, RD City Creek Dietitian, Harmons
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
The dietitian program at Harmons was the brainchild of our pharmacy director. I was the third dietitian Harmons brought on board in 2012. Previously, I had focused on hunger issues and community nutrition at a small anti-hunger non-profit in Salt Lake City.
At Harmons, each dietitian works out of her own home store, but is also involved in many “corporate” efforts as well. We are all involved in providing nutrition workshops, healthy store tours, healthy cooking classes, and individual counseling in addition to the “behind the scenes” work of maintaining our “Dietitians Choice” labeling system and working on various departmental teams to integrate healthy messages and recipes throughout the store. We also implement regular corporate wellness initiatives such as bimonthly wellness educational activities, “Grocery Games,” and an annual fun run for our associates and their families.
Can you share a little about your dietitians choice shelf tagging system and some of the benefits you’ve seen.
We have developed a shelf tagging system to help make the healthy choice an easy one for our customers. Each category of food has different requirements to meet the Dietitians Choice criteria but, in general, the program limits saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium and emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and healthy fats.
Our customers love the Dietitians Choice program because it helps them save time and easily identify the healthiest choices in each category. It instantly answers their questions such as “which bread is the best to buy?” or “how do I pick a healthy yogurt for my kids?” They know they can trust it because it was created by Harmons’ dietitians without vendor influence.
One of the most obvious benefits we’ve seen since implementing the program in 2013, is that Dietitians Choice items have shown greater sales increases than items that are not tagged. In addition, we have received a lot of positive customer feedback. Many people claim to “only shop Dietitians Choice” items and some have even attributed the program to 20 pounds or more of weight loss.
What is your role in the cooking workshops in your cooking school? Any favorite stories?
Three of our stores are equipped with beautiful cooking schools. These provide us with a great place to offer hands on experience to our customers. I find that talking about and showing customers good food choices is helpful, but the light bulbs really start turning on when they get the knives out and start cooking.
We offer monthly nutrition workshops on various topics such as the Mediterranean Diet, Heart Health, Super Foods, and Living with Diabetes. Since my home store is in downtown Salt Lake City, I host wellness “lunch n’ learn” classes for surrounding businesses. During these we go through a lot of information and we always offer at least a taste of a related recipe. Often, we make the recipes together. For more in-depth cooking classes, we will partner with our cooking school chefs for evening classes.
My favorite part of these classes is hearing from past participants about how they “make the recipe every week” or how they “made this for my vegan son and he loved it.” It is so fulfilling to hear about how what we do can steer a small part of someone’s life toward healthier choices.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Working in retail forces me to be relevant—to customers and to my company’s bottom line. This is probably true of any dietitian working with clients. Even though I’d love to suggest to everyone that they should eat only organic, whole foods prepared from scratch, that would not be relevant or helpful to them. Learning to meet customers where they are and help them find solutions that are within their comfort zone is both difficult and fulfilling.
A challenge specific to the retail world is learning how to be most effective in the retail industry without compromising my professional values. Walking the fine line of working with food industry companies and providing trustworthy, unbiased nutrition information is a big responsibility that I take seriously. I find it disconcerting that so much of our research today is sponsored by food companies that have financial skin in the game.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
I wish I had known how important it is to take the time to gain rapport within the company. As a company, Harmons is extremely supportive of dietitians; however, I have learned to never take this for granted. I have found the more I can collaborate and understand the grocery industry, the more effective I can be as a dietitian. The more I can find common ground with the people and departments I work with, the more we can better serve our customers and reach our goals. Plus, this make everything more fun!
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
Being able to bounce information and ideas off my fellow dietitians at Harmons is extremely helpful. Also, networking at retail dietitian events and food industry conferences has been a great way to learn about different programs and ideas. I have found it extremely important to stay flexible and keep an open mind. Other than that, I have learned a lot by trial and error.
Seeing the positive effect that healthy, fresh food has on Harmons customers is what drives Laura each day. As dietitian for the 7th Street, Brickyard, and Emigration Market stores, Laura loves sharing her passion for health and wellness with the Harmons community. After completing a bachelor degree in biology in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Laura spent 18 months as an ecology field assistant, surveying Georgia wetlands. As thrilling as it sounds, she became more fascinated by the vegetarian lifestyle of her co-workers than ecology work Laura completed the Coordinated Master’s Program in Nutrition at the University of Utah. Experience as a clinical dietitian in a hospital setting and as a nutrition and farmers market coordinator for a non-profit organization, give Laura the expertise to help Harmons customers achieve their health and wellness goals.
Harmons Grocery is a family owned business based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. It started with one small produce stand in 1932 and today we have 16 stores throughout the state. Our mission is to value our associates and exceed our customer's expectations. We do this by offering the freshest, highest quality food possible including fresh-made artisan bread, freshly-cut meats, and made-from-scratch delicatessen meals and salads. Harmons is constantly striving to offer our customers the best—that is why we brought our first dietitian on board in 2011 to help them make the most wholesome choices.