Nutrition on a Budget

Published in the December 2010 Issue Published online: Dec 09, 2010
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Outreach to this segment of registered dietitians began in late 2008, at the beginning of the recession, as all retailers were looking for ways to set themselves apart from "the rest" by offering value to customers that went beyond just price. To be a part of the solution, the USPB developed a toolkit for Supermarket RDs, who were wrestling with this challenge. "Nutrition on a Budget" was the theme. It included a number of potato meals and side dishes, which were nutritious, on the table in less than 30 minutes and each less than $2.50 per serving. Finally, a package with the recipes as well as dinnertime tips, photos and nutrition information touting the potato's high nutritional value and low-calorie content was sent to a comprehensive list of supermarket RDs across the country. And that was the official launch of the supermarket RD outreach program.

"What we found out about this group of influencers is they inherently know potatoes are good for you," Myers explained. "They don't have a problem talking about it, either. But just like our media allies, they need new ideas and consumer-friendly materials giving fresh reasons to talk about the goodness of potatoes."

From that initial contact, a handful of RDs included the USPB's "Nutrition on a Budget" recipes and photos on their consumer website. However, the most impressive results were generated by SUPERVALU Corporate Dietitian Kim Kirchherr, Itasca, Ill. During her four-minute appearance on the ABC 7 News, Chicago, "For Your Family" segment on March 30, 2009, she praised the potato for its potassium, vitamin C, complex carbohydrates and fiber, as well as its budget-friendly, kid-pleasing qualities. She also included the "Nutrition on a Budget" recipes and message points as part of her weekly column for Lawndale News, a bilingual Hispanic/English newspaper serving suburban Chicago, lauding the healthy potato.

"What I really like to tell people about potatoes are messages like: they have more potassium than a banana; they're economical and bursting with nutrients," said Kirchherr. "They provide the right kind of carbohydrates, they are easy to prepare in microwaves and on grills, and their size denotes portion control. The USPB online resources and recipes are great, too, including all the budget-friendly recipes."

SUPERVALU shoppers continue to see new potato ideas through Kirchherr's work, as that relationship continues to grow.

"It's clear how mutually beneficial it is to work together," Myers asserts. "Professionals like Kim are influential with consumers, so when they're inspired or motivated to use potato information, our industry benefits.

"Building a win-win relationship is how we help further their own goals-by offering `inspiration' and serving as the right resource for credible, scientific information and reliable tools that are consumer-facing which can be easily used in columns, publications, ad circulars or online."

Quick and Healthy

The second formal push to supermarket RDs included a re-packaged consumer Quick and Healthy PR campaign. USPB transformed consumers' favorite potato dishes into healthier recipes, each ready in less than 30 minutes. In this series, the goodness of potatoes were brought to life by a series of recipes, photos and minute-long videos, giving consumers a multi-media experience with potatoes.

This package, along with a newly published Potato Nutrition Handbook, was unveiled during the first-ever, USPB-sponsored "What's in Store" Supermarket Dietitian Symposium at Johnson & Wales University in Denver, held just prior to the American Dietetic Association's Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo on October 16, 2009. The event attracted a group of highly influential attendees from major supermarket chains, such as Target, Big Y, H-E-B, SUPERVALU and the list goes on.

For 90 minutes, potatoes were showcased with a nutrition science presentation from USPB's consulting RD, Dr. Katherine Beals. Additionally, RD's were given a consumer trends overview and retailer best practice tips for in-store merchandising and communication. What attendees really had their eye on were the live demonstrations of the Quick and Healthy mashed potato recipe presented by home economist and Raley's Supermarkets' Patty Mastracco. She showcased three different ways to make mashed potatoes in the microwave in under 30 minutes, as well as introduced the library of Quick and Healthy recipes available on the USPB's website,

"The enthusiasm in the room for the Quick and Healthy Recipes was exciting to see, but what was most interesting was how these RDs immediately went home and began using the information we had handed them," stated Myers.

A week after the symposium, Super Target's Susan Mitchell appeared, discussing featured potato nutrition information in several media segments, including local markets like Denver and Philadelphia, and on a national television show, "The Daily Buzz," which reaches an estimated 4.3 million viewers in 160 markets.

Mitchell championed the messages that the vitamin C in potatoes is part of a healthy diet and may help support the body's immune system. This is based on the health profession's well-established precedent advising us to get plenty of vitamin C as a means of staying healthy and to help avoid illnesses. Mitchell also focused on how the Quick and Healthy mashed potato recipe can help get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.


Potato Salad Media Push

The USPB consumer PR "Potato Salad Media Push" in May 2010 provided yet another opportunity to offer new ideas to its growing base of supermarket RD partners. Salad recipes, which substituted mayonnaise with plain or Greek yogurt, piqued interest and landed on the pages of the Big Y June-July "Living Well, Eating Smart" shopper magazine.

An interesting collaboration with the RDs at Hy-Vee and Giant Eagle saw the Greek version of the "Quick and Healthy" potato salad soar in popularity. Through an opportunity offered to the USPB by Oldways' Mediterranean Food Alliance, 15 Hy-Vee and Giant Eagle stores celebrated May as Mediterranean Foods Month by preparing and sampling the Quick and Healthy Mediterranean Potato Salad. They handed out brochures and recipe cards to shoppers.

"Mediterranean potato salad was a huge hit in my demo. People loved it and appreciated all the info on potatoes!" wrote RD Ayn Pavek, Hy-Vee, Faribault, Minn., in an email to Myers. "We are meat-and-potato country around here, and they like hearing potatoes are good for them."

"The timing was perfect for this opportunity," said Myers. "First, it extended our Potato Salad media push into the retail channel through these RDs. Second, because we had developed the Mediterranean potato salad, it was a natural fit to the promotion. But most importantly, it opened the door to new relationships to RDs interested in working together beyond a May promotion."

Customizable Program

Is the USPB Supermarket RD program a fast-moving, one-size-fits-all program? No, it is not. The mission is to build long-term trust and relationships with the RDs who can then help "carry the water" and extend USPB potato messages. This outreach must be customized for different retailers who have varying needs and demographics to serve. This takes time and attention to detail. The supermarket RD pool is huge, so the outreach is definitely a long-term strategy, but the results from working with retailers like SUPERVALU, Super Target, Hy-Vee and Giant Eagle clearly demonstrate the type of returns this outreach program can deliver.