With all the innovation in supplements these days, keeping retail employees up to date is difficult. Find out how Natural Grocers does it.

Douglas Brown, Senior Retail Reporter

March 5, 2024

3 Min Read
Teaching supplements: How a leading retailer trains staff
Canva, Alamy

Education serves as the foundation of the entire supplements department. Offering helpful and safe guidance about how to incorporate supplements into lifestyles requires deep knowledge—far more than is required for the snacks or ice cream sections.

With 167 stores across the country, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage is a leading natural products retailer, and its commitment to supplements represents especially keen savvy within the industry.

We talked with Karen Falbo, director of nutrition at Natural Grocers, about how she and her team handle supplements and nutritional education in their stores.

What resources does Natural Grocers invest in for supplements education?

Karen Falbo: Our Nutrition Education department includes 18 people. All the department’s work revolves around training and supporting the nutrition health coach positions—each store has a dedicated full-time nutrition health coach—as well as producing nutrition content for the company. Coaches must have a background in nutrition science or a related field. They educate consumers and act as educational resources for employees. We provide ongoing education for them and require that they seek more than 100 hours of continuing education a year.

Karen Falbo, director of nutrition at Natural Grocers

Can you offer some concrete examples of how education works in the aisles?

Related:Boost the vitamins and minerals aisle for dietary supplement success

KF: We recently had a training about medium-chain triglycerides that involved companywide training for our crew, and then [we] rolled it out to customers. How do MCTs support health? Who might benefit from them? How should people use them? This campaign, part of our quarterly Nutrient to Know About program, zeroes in on supplements that would benefit most people’s health, but also those that the general population might not be familiar with. We focus on a different topic every month—not all of them are part of this program.

We monitor sales during these quarterly and monthly efforts. These education programs always have a positive impact on sales, and we set sales goals around these subjects. In January of this year, we began educating consumers about rhodiola. These efforts begin with health coach training, then all-staff training and eventually customer education. The health coaches also hold in-store classes for customers to attend.

We have guest presenters at least once a year, normally physicians. Last December’s topic was cardiovascular health, and we invited author and physician Dr. Jack Wolfson to speak. He went into dietary factors, misinformation around cholesterol and saturated fat being the villain, and the role that a diet high in omega-6 and pro-inflammatory oils plays in the demise of vascular health.

KF: Yes, we call this Health Supportive Statements. We need to make sure that we are not diagnosing, prescribing or talking about nutrients in the context of treating or curing disease. Our health coaches receive monthly training on these Health Supportive Statements. Training looks at things like FDA warning letters written to supplement companies. Our health coaches will also look at scientific studies about specific ingredients, including things that we are not permitted to talk about in the stores. We want them to have as much background as possible.

Then when they conduct training for employees, they will talk about what is OK to say for ingredients, such as it “supports a healthy mood” or “supports healthy weight management,” but you can’t compare it to an antidepressant. This is a big component of how we take this subject very seriously and work to ensure that all our employees understand the parameters.

About the Author(s)

Douglas Brown

Senior Retail Reporter, New Hope Network

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