In-store StrategyOnline StrategyPersonalization

With Virtual Dietitians, Retailers Move into Telehealth

By June 23, 2020 August 3rd, 2020 No Comments

Supermarkets have taken their dietitians online, from ShopRite to Kroger to H-E-B. Dietitians, a staple of in-store health initiatives by retailers in recent years, have now expanded their services to include telehealth, just as healthcare providers have done to supplement in-person visits. H-E-B had previously offered virtual visits, but more supermarkets are joining them now, and Kroger has expanded their pilot program with Cincinnati doctors to provide personal nutrition plans for patients.

Food as Medicine

As part of their Food is Medicine initiative, patients take written prescriptions from their doctor to Kroger’s dietitians, who help them pick out foods for their specific conditions. The pilot program served as a direct link between primary health doctors and personalized eating plans. Though the program intended to launch throughout the Kroger Health system, the retailer’s network of dietitians, nurse practioners, and other health professionals, the telehealth service is their current alternative to the fully personalized health journey.

When we say ‘food is medicine,’ we want to make clear that it very much still involves the holistic health care team and it still involves primary care,” [Bridget Wojciak, a Kroger Health registered dietitian] said. “We find that a lot of physicians give difficult-to-follow nutrition advice — along the lines of ‘You should improve your diet’ or ‘You should eat better.’ And that becomes very difficult for a patient to understand and implement. So a nutrition prescription is the strategic way to fill the gap between the physician’s guidance and the actual products that will yield health benefits.

Supermarket News, “Kroger puts ‘food as medicine’ to the test”

In an effort to expand the service, Kroger opened their online dietitian services to all customers for free for the duration of the pandemic. Between face mask requirements in stores like Costco and general increased difficulty of shopping trips, healthy and fresh eating has dropped in priority for many consumers.

Kroger’s telenutrition scheduling system, Source: Kroger website

According to a Kroger press release featuring research from their data team, 46% of customers reported snacking more throughout the day, and 40% said they’re eating more comfort and indulgent foods. Forty percent of shoppers also indicated they’ve bought more packaged foods than normal. Moving to online visits makes it easier for consumers to make diet plans, especially for vulnerable populations that have limited access to in-store services at the moment. In addition to the telenutrition program, customers can schedule virtual appointments via Kroger’s The Little Clinic, which offers primary care in over 200 locations.

General vs. Specialized with ShopRite and H-E-B

Even before Kroger’s online dietitian service, retailers have been shifting towards virtual visits to better support consumers with their health goals. ShopRite, the northeastern grocer with a 14-year history of in-store dietitians, began offering virtual appointments in March of this year after a soft opening in December.

ShopRite’s online chat functions, Source: ShopRite website

The service is free for all ShopRite customers, but is notably aimed at being more accessible than Kroger’s personalized experience. According to ShopRite’s website, the dietitians offer meal inspiration, product recommendations, and basic nutrition advice.

I’m especially excited about launching this program because it means we can now provide all of our customers – both those that shop in our stores, as well as those that are shopping with us online – with quick, easy and simple ways to get nutritional advice from licensed health professionals, at no charge, when and where they need it most.

Natalie Menza-Crowe, director of health and wellness for ShopRite; from Progressive Grocer, “ShopRite Introduces Virtual Dietitian Program”

The virtual dietitian program helps to fill a gap for ShopRite customers who rely on in-store nutritional advice, but it may not be the best option for those interested in specific diet advice. H-E-B’s online service is aimed more at this specialized information, which the retailer lists on their website as including the following:

  • Food allergies
  • Athletic Performance
  • Childhood & Family Nutrition
  • Cancer Nutrition Support
  • Weight Management
  • Diabetes Management
  • Digestive Health

The key difference between the two programs is that H-E-B’s dietitian services rely on medical insurance–the retailer currently offers a credit for customers without insurance, but the cost is still a barrier to personalized diet help. With ShopRite, the advice is much more general, but also works as more of a complimentary concierge service tailored to health questions.

H-E-B’s health initiative banner, Source: H-E-B website

Each program offers a different level of personalization, but all these retailers are joined in advancing the connection between healthy eating and healthy living. By starting at the supermarket, retailers can support health initiatives in their communities while building trust with their customers. Becoming personally invested in consumers’ health goals allows for new opportunities in both health and retail.

For more information on how stores are investing in health, you can read our review of the CVS MinuteClinic services. You can also learn more about attribute-based marketing at How Raley’s, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods are Using Attribute-Driven Marketing, how stores are giving premium shelf placement for healthy foods and how Product Attributes are Key to Personalization in Retail (Part 2).

David Esparza

David Esparza

Marketing Specialist at Engage3

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