Natural Foods Merchandiser

Secret Shopper: April 2010

The question: Can supplements replace food?

STORE: Central U.S.-based natural products chain store

NFM: I’m looking for a good daily multivitamin.

Store employee: This is a whole-food supplement that’s raw and includes enzymes, plus fruits and vegetables. (She picks up bottle.)

NFM: It’s pretty expensive.

Store employee: But think of how much you spend on fruits and vegetables. They’re in here. (She goes on to explain the benefits of the ingredients.)

NFM: So I don’t have to eat any fruits and vegetables if I take this?

Store employee: Well, I wouldn’t say that. It’s just that we don’t get enough in a typical Western diet. Try it and come back and tell me how you feel. I promise you’ll feel better.

Rating: 6/10

Comment: Lisa Lanzano, RD, owner of Boulder, Colo.-based nutrition counseling service Essential Nutrition, applauds the store employee for overcoming the customer’s objection to the cost of the supplement. To enhance customer service, Lanzano suggests that the employee break down the price point to cost per day, which is usually a more manageable number for a customer to digest.

To prevent the employee from giving the customer a piece of incorrect information, Lanzano cautions against giving too much dietary detail unless the employee is a trained nutritionist. “Consuming a whole-food multivitamin with tiny amounts of fruit and/or vegetable extracts is not at all the same as actually eating whole vegetables and fruits,” she says. “You simply can’t get many fruits or vegetables in a capsule, especially when those capsules are also filled with a combination of other ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals and enzymes.”

Nevertheless, supplements can prevent nutritional inadequacies that may occur from an imperfect diet, which may result in much more costly medical bills down the road, according to Lanzano. “The employee just needs to remind the customer that supplements, by nature, are exactly that: supplements to a healthy diet,” she says. “They cannot replace food. But they can provide additional benefit or fill gaps where our eating habits fall short.”

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