'Health food police'? UK supermarket employing ‘healthy eating specialists’ to consult with customers

A large chain of British supermarkets is aiming to curb its customers’ unhealthier habits with the aid of “healthy eating specialists.”

Waitrose, which operates more than 350 locations throughout the U.K., announced Thursday that the company will have 100 such specialists in select stores by the end of 2018, where they will direct customers to healthier alternatives, suggests recipes, and generally be available to advise shoppers.

waitrose specialist from waitrose.co.uk

The chain says 100 of these "healthy eating specialists" will be available at select locations by the end of the year.  (Waitrose)

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"Many shoppers have the best intentions to be healthier but busy lives get in the way. We know that small steps, top tips and nuggets of good advice can help them get started and importantly stay on track,” said Moira Howie, the nutrition and health manager for Waitrose, in a press release.

Shoppers browse the aisles in the Canary Wharf store of Waitrose in London January 23, 2013. Waitrose outperformed bigger rivals Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons at Christmas and market research group Kantar Worldpanel said last week its market share in the festive trading period was 4.9 percent - a new high. Picture taken January 23, 2013.  REUTERS/Neil Hall (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS FOOD) - LM1E91P0K3401

"Many shoppers have the best intentions to be healthier but busy lives get in the way," claims Waitrose's nutrition and health manager.  (Reuters)

Since news of Waitrose’s plans was announced, British media outlets including The Telegraph and The Daily Mail have already dubbed the in-store specialists “health food police” and “nutrition nannies,” respectively. The former added that Waitrose’s initiative comes as the chain expands its line of “Good Health” offerings, or store-brand items that meet certain nutritional guidelines.

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A few critics on Twitter have already blasted the supermarket’s move as “virtue signaling,” or attempting to provide “chaperones for the middle class,” but Waitrose has responded by saying the specialists will not interfere with shoppers’ activities, and will only provide advice upon request.

Waitrose also announced a number of other health initiatives for 2018, including the expanded testing of its “personal nutrition consultation” services; the launch of a new Waitrose health magazine; and the launch of a recipe program.

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The company says it decided to ramp up efforts to aid with consumer choices following in-house research that found about half of the chain’s customers didn’t feel “on top of their health.”