“The grocery store! Really, this is where we [nutritionists] should be,” she says. Part of her day is spent in private consultations (12 to 15 per week) with customers who include 5-year-olds with their parents, teens, people with an intolerance to gluten or who want to lose weight. A majority of them are senior citizens who are especially “into” health and wellness, Moylan says.
Such appointments can cost $40-plus per hour, but at Giant, the service is essentially free. Customers pay $20 but receive a $20 store gift card. She speaks to school groups that come to the Willow Grove store on field trips as well.
In one-on-one sessions, “we talk about food likes and dislikes, about the times they eat, their medical issues, and get their height and weight. Then I calculate their nutritional needs,” Moylan says. “Together, we come up with a meal plan.
“And right when we’re finished, I say, ‘Let’s go to the floor.’ We go shopping . . . and not just the perimeter of the store.”
Bread and cereal shelves are regular stops, where Moylan and her client will compare nutritional labels and assess amounts of fiber and carbohydrates. “As I’m talking to my customer, five or six others will gather around, which is great.”
That kind of small flash mob is what happens to the charismatic Kiss all day. He may have as many as 50 interactions, ranging from a simple answer about how to cook beans that ends with his offering a helpful Whole Foods pamphlet on the subject, to a 15-minute troubleshooting session on lamb curry.
Customer reaction has been positive overall, says the chef, his blue eyes twinkling. Although Kiss’s formal training may come up in conversation, he has left “chef” off his name tag to eliminate the intimidation factor.
“I go to Michael for everything,” says repeat customer Rockville resident Netherland Washington, who’s a good example of the ongoing connections with customers that Kiss is after. “I’ve been a vegetarian for 10 months, and he has told me how to prepare things I had no idea about.”
There is no official way to gauge his impact, but anecdotally, he says, sales of bulk foods increase significantly when he’s around. And the demographic of this suburban store is more varied than he expected it to be.
“This has gotten me really excited about cooking again,” Kiss says, upbeat at the end of the day. After a shift, he will often go home with something new to try. His own recipes are incorporated in the Whole Foods database online as well, and he posts them on his weekly store blog.
“I think this is something that’s going to change Whole Foods,” he says. “When you shop here, my goal is to make ‘What’s for dinner?’ no longer the hardest question you ask yourself that day.”