The Modern Shopper brings together the best minds and insights of a diverse group of food retailers and other industry experts to discuss their strategic initiatives and their top of mind challenges. Our focus is around health and sustainability, e-commerce and retail innovation. This series aligns with Spoon Guru’s core mission to help retailers discover a seamless, personalized and accurate product discovery experience for shoppers based on their dietary and lifestyle needs and is hosted by Phil Lempert.
Today’s guest is Jessica Siegel, Staff Dietitian for Gelson’s Supermarkets for more than 20 years. A Master in Public Health and a Registered Dietitian, she’s one of the leaders in the retail dietitian effort. Jessica uses a Mediterranean diet as the framework for all of her programs which includes working with Gelson’s culinary team to develop prepared foods under her brand as well as the smoothie, juice and pre-pack recipes for Gelson’s Dune’s Juice and Smoothie bars. She also writes a monthly newsletter about nutrition and health, and is responsible for Gelson’s healthy living guides.
In this episode Jessica shares her thoughts on the importance of having consistent messaging around healthy eating, the value of tapping into trends like grab & go, and some of the challenges and opportunities for Retail Dietitians today.
This interview runs for 15 minutes.
🖥 Watch the interview:
🎙 Listen to the interview:
Also on: Podbean
📄 Read the full transcript:
Phil Lempert: Welcome to The Modern Shopper. This series brings together the best minds and insights of a diverse group of food retailers and other industry experts to discuss their strategic initiatives and their top of mind challenges. Our focus is around health and sustainability, e-commerce and retail innovation. The Modern Shopper series aligns with Spoon Guru’s core mission to help retailers discover a seamless, personalized and accurate product discovery experience for shoppers based on their dietary and lifestyle needs. I’m your host, Phil Lempert.
Phil Lempert: Today’s guest is Jessica Siegel, Master in Public Health and a Registered Dietitian. She’s the Staff Dietitian for Gelson’s Supermarkets here in California for more than 20 years. One of the leaders in the retail dietitian effort, Jessica uses a Mediterranean diet as the framework for all of her programs, which includes working with Gelson’s culinary team to develop prepared foods under her brand. She also designs the smoothie, juice and pre-pack recipes for Gelson’s Dune’s Juice and Smoothie bars. She writes Nutrition Notes, a monthly newsletter about nutrition and health, and is responsible for their healthy living guides. And she still has time to travel to their stores, meet with shoppers and help guide their food, nutrition and diet choices. Jessica, welcome to The Modern Shopper.
Jessica Siegel: It’s great to be here, Phil. Thank you.
Phil Lempert: So I have to ask you a question 20 years ago, what made you go into supermarkets versus working as a dietitian in clinical or public health? What was the allure of Gelson’s?
Jessica Siegel: Oh my goodness. Well, so I’m a California girl. I grew up shopping at Gelson’s and then for college I went to Berkeley. And as you know, the culture there, it’s very much a foodie culture and food and good food is very important there. I was majoring in nutrition and, you know, I really thought everybody eats in such a great way to be able to relate to people and have a career. And then I discovered public health, which was the idea of prevention instead of treatment, which appealed to me. It made so much sense to me, and at the same time, I was learning to really love and appreciate food. I lived behind a supermarket that was kind of like a baby Gelson’s and I would shop every day and it had just like a great vibe. It was very curated. They played the rat pack. I just enjoyed it. It was very much a relaxing part of my day. And then, you know, I was in graduate school. I’d go to parties and people would ask me questions about nutrition, and it all came together and I thought if I could sit in a supermarket all day long and talk to people about nutrition, that would just be my dream job. So, it just like, I think when you know what you want, it can come to you better. And so when I moved back to L.A. I got involved with Gelson’s. And a year after I graduated from my master’s program and I had completed my dietetic internship, I was offered the position of Staff Dietitian at Gelson’s. I’ve been here for over 20 years now.
Phil Lempert: So I happened to live as, as you know, Jessica, probably about seven or eight blocks away from a Gelson’s, and that’s my primary store. I visit other stores to see what’s going on, but where I buy, you know, our groceries is Gelson’s. So what I love is when I go into the store, you’re everywhere, you’re on the flat screens, you’re in the deli case, you know, you’re in the juice bar, you’re absolutely everywhere. So, that must make you feel very proud and obviously have a lot of consumers that are reaching out to pre-pandemic. What would you say the number one question was that you received from shoppers.
Jessica Siegel: I think a lot of people pre-pandemic and post-pandemic are very interested in weight loss. So a lot of people want to know about losing weight and then a lot of people just want to know how to eat more healthfully. There’s so much confusion out there. There’s so many mixed messages about what healthy is, and there’s confusion about just low calorie mean, healthy, you know, so just defining healthy can be very confusing. And so I feel fortunate that we have known what our definition of healthy is for so long and we’ve stuck with it. So there’s no confusion or mixed messages coming from our end. It’s all about the Mediterranean diet and how to use it as a framework for healthy eating and living.
Phil Lempert: And to be honest with you, I think that you’re the exception when it comes to retailers that have been consistent. You know, the FDA is now working on a symbol that’s going to designate healthy. It’s going to be put on products. They don’t have a definition of healthy, but they’re going to come up with a symbol. And I think that what you’ve done at Gelson’s is really significant because it is consistent that, you know, there are other stores that might be jumping from one system to another system. And your job is really to make it easier for me, the shopper.
Jessica Siegel: Good, I’m glad that you’re understanding what our approach is, and it does feel easy and consistent, and because that is very much a goal for us.
Phil Lempert: So, you know, I talked about you working in culinary with your culinary teams. Chefs can be, how would I put this properly, difficult at best. You know, the whole celebrity chef thing, you know, we’ve watched the Food Network for 20 plus years. We hear about all the stories. How is it for you working with the culinary ends to say, OK, I want to develop this smoothie recipe. I want to develop this, this healthier salad. Did you get pushback or were they willing to say – hey, you know, here’s another lens that we could look at for our prepared foods?
Jessica Siegel: Yeah, I mean, it can be a delicate situation for sure. And I’ve because I’ve been there so long, I’ve worked with different chefs and the teams have been assembled differently over these 20 years. So, you know, I think first of all, it’s really important to have the support of leadership. And you know, I found that if you don’t have that, then you’re not going to get much traction. But also having been part of a team is really important. You know, I think that approaching it. As you know, I’m here to enhance and add to not take over or take away from what everybody else is doing, I think that that’s really helpful and being involved and being part of the conversation can be, it’s essential, I think. So, you know, over the years, it started out where, you know, things were a lot simpler. We had fewer stores, we had fewer team members. You know, it was just like the ladder to the top was a lot shorter than it is now. And so things have changed too, because it was easy to get started. And I was very young and innocent when I started and I didn’t have a huge skill set. I knew how to cook, but I didn’t know how to cook large quantities. So that’s something I’ve learned over the years. And I would say that it’s really important to be collaborative and come to the table with your ideas and do your research and know what the trends are. And, you know, have a great conversation where you are collaborating with the chef. But also you have to be independent. You have to have enough skills that you can leave that conversation and then go to the kitchen and do your work and start small and then scale up, scale up, scale up on your own and then present it. You know what I mean? Whereas if you’re just like, Oh, here’s a recipe that I make at home, yeah, that’s going to be a lot of work for the other people on your team. So I think there’s a lot of factors that go into it, but having the skill set and being willing to collaborate is important.
Phil Lempert: So you mentioned trends certainly during the pandemic and wherever we are now in the pandemic, a lot of people have moved back to cooking at home, cooking from scratch, changing what they could buy based on what was available on store shelves. And that’s gotten a lot better. But when you look into your crystal ball, what are the health and wellness trends that you’re watching right now, whether it’s for prepared foods, whether to communicate with shoppers? You know, you mentioned dieting or losing weight. What else are you watching?
Jessica Siegel: Well, I think that, you know, there’s still a lot of confusion and mixed messages out there. And so it’s going to be important as dietitians to have a good, consistent message. You know, I rely on you, Phil, mainly to know what the trends are. But I would say, like what we’re seeing is that grab and go is really important right now. People are still like not wanting to spend a ton of time waiting. You know, everything we do is totally fresh, you know, made fresh every day. So our customers are very comfortable with the grab and go aspect. So that is something. And, you know, as a tip for dietitians who might want to get into this. You know, when you are developing recipes, you have to be thinking in that kind of vein. Also like, is this going to hold up if it’s pre-packed and somebody buys it tomorrow and you make it today and buy it today and then they eat it three days later, how is it going to look? So that’s always something to be thinking of as well.
Phil Lempert: So when you think about the challenges that Retail Dietitians across the U.S. have, you know, you mentioned information constantly changing consumers, constantly changing. What has you concerned about the challenges for Retail Dietitians?
Jessica Siegel: I think just, you know, being adaptable. Change is hard, and we’ve all had to pivot so quickly and really reimagine everything we do. And so I think that that really is the challenge of reimagining. And then you have to present it and you have to get, you know, the powers that be on board with that and you have got to have support.
So working with marketing, working with the culinary team and, you know, just really I think the idea of being a team is so important. And you know, for me, I’m the only dietitian for 27 stores, so I don’t have a nutrition team. So I’ve, you know, I’ve got to just me, myself and I, work with all of these different departments. And so, yeah, building those relationships and maintaining them, I think, is really important too.
Phil Lempert: Jessica, when you look into your crystal ball post-pandemic, when we’re through all this, which is hopefully soon when people don’t have to wear masks in stores where maybe hopefully we can take down the plexiglass shields, what’s the first thing that you want to do when you get back into the stores?
Jessica Siegel: Oh my gosh, I want to get back out there and be with my customers and take selfies with them. And, you know, just do my sampling. You know, like you mentioned, the juices in the smoothies and you know, it’s relatively new and it’s just been such a passion project for me to develop the whole menu for our juice and smoothie bar. And you know, it’s new for our customers, and the best way to sell food is to get people to taste it. So we haven’t been able to put out samples or offer samples. And so I think that when the masks come off and the shields come down, that’ll be like number one, just going out there sampling, interacting face to face, it’ll be great.
Phil Lempert: And when you look at your magazine that you put out every month, what are some of the nutrition tips that you really, besides the Mediterranean diet, which I know is very important in the core of what you’re doing? What else are the kinds of information that you want to give to consumers to make their shopping experience easier, better, smarter, more empowered?
Jessica Siegel: Well, so you know, when I talk to people one on one, I tell them like, what you eat is important, but just as important is how you eat, how you feel about the food you’re eating and the way you approach it. So I’m constantly trying to help people build a better relationship with food and eating. And so a lot of my newsletter information focuses on that because I know we don’t eat in a vacuum, right? It’s not just, food is not just fuel, it’s everything. It’s how we socialize and it’s how we celebrate holidays and it’s how we reward ourselves and comfort ourselves and how we nourish ourselves. So I want people to understand that and just see it more holistically. And you know, as a Gelson’s shopper yourself, I’m sure, you know, like, what an enjoyable experience it is to go to Gelson’s. And yes, you know, it’s clean and the aisles are wide and the vibe is good. So, you know, I want people to bring that home with them to and when they sit down at the table to eat their food, they should also be continuing to feel that, you know, it’s just a great place to escape to even, you know, I’ve talked to people, you know, during the pandemic who are like, I just want to get out. I just want to go to Gelson’s. I just, you know, it’s a great place to be. And so helping people continue to have that good feeling and that experience is really important to me.
Phil Lempert: So Jessica, thank you so much for your insights, for your work and for joining us today on the modern shopper.
Jessica Siegel: It’s been a pleasure, Phil. Thank you for having me.