ShareThis Page

Dietitians roam aisles, help shoppers make good choices

| Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Carole Sedlak asks Amanda Loscar, a Registered Dietitian at Giant Eagle, for advice in which foods to buy while shopping in Shaler Thursday, September 27, 2012. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Carole Sedlak (right) and Linda Smith ask Amanda Loscar, a Registered Dietitian at Giant Eagle, for advice in which foods to buy while shopping in Shaler Thursday, September 27, 2012. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)

Linda Smith held a package of frozen vegetarian burgers, eyeing the picture of the remarkably beef-like patty etched with black grill marks.

Smith, of Shaler, typically doesn't buy vegetarian substitutes. She wondered, amid the bustle of the frozen-food aisle at the Giant Eagle store, if she could sneak the burger past her husband.

“I'm anxious to try this,” said Smith, 68, with a nervous smile as she dropped the package into her cart.

Her decision received a reassuring nod from Amanda Loscar, a registered dietitian Giant Eagle employs to help customers with health conditions make healthier food choices. Smith and her husband have type 2 diabetes and want to lose weight and better control their blood sugar.

“For someone watching their cholesterol, this is a good alternative,” Loscar said of the veggie burgers.

Loscar is among 22 dietitians Giant Eagle hired in the past three years. They work in 36 of its stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland. The O'Hara-based company, with 230 stores, is jumping on a national trend of grocers employing dietitians to assist customers.

“Retailers are really looking it as a way to differentiate and show the customer that they're committed to health and wellness,” said Annette Maggi, a St. Paul, Minn.-area registered dietitian and retail consultant.

Maggi estimates there are about 400 dietitians in U.S. grocery stores — a small but growing number, as store operators increasingly recognize that such services increase customer loyalty, bring in shoppers and can be a strong marketing tool.

Other chains picking up on the trend include Hy-Vee in the Midwest, with 235 stores; Meijer, a Michigan-based chain with about 200 stores; and Kroger, which has more than 2,400 stores across the country.

Brett Merrell, Giant Eagle's senior vice president of health, beauty and wellness, claimed the company isn't employing dietitians to increase sales, though he acknowledged the effort has some marketing advantage.

Dietitian services “differentiate” Giant Eagle from its competitors, but he said Giant Eagle is simply trying to help consumers be healthier.

“It may sound too good to be true, but the primary reasoning we're doing it is because we think it's the right thing to do,” Merrell said.

The company plans to add to the number of dietitians it employs and the number of stores where they meet with customers, but Merrell said he hasn't set any numbers or timeline.

Loscar, who has worked for Giant Eagle about 18 months, spends five days a week doing in-store consultations, teaching nutrition classes and walking the aisles to answer questions. In a typical week she meets with 10 to 20 people, she said.

“I love being in the middle of the action and working directly with customers,” Loscar said.

She provides a bridge from the store's pharmacy to its food products. A patient such as Smith may have prescriptions for medication and advice from her doctor to eat healthier.

But putting healthy eating into practice can be daunting when shoppers face the multitude of products stores stock, said Carole Sedlak, 63, of Glenshaw.

“There's no family doctor who's going to go grocery shopping with you,” Sedlak said.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.