Amy Preston is a registered dietitian working for The Hershey Company in Hershey, Pennsylvania. So it might be easy to see that her biggest challenge is being a nutrition expert for what has historically been “a candy company.” Preston, the senior manager of research and development regulatory and nutrition at Hershey’s, noted there’s been challenges in helping people understand how and when nutrition professionals should be engaging in the business.
“What I’ve learned from these challenges is how to truly show my peers and leaders the positive impact that I can have by linking the work that I do to consumers: how they eat, how they shop and what information they are looking for,” she said. “Another key factor to this is the ability to translate science and nutrition policy so that I can better educate my non-technical business partners to better help them understand the potential implications for our business.”
Having been at the company for more than 16 years now, she said the best part about working at Hershey has been the people that she works with and the ability to have an impact on the snacks that consumers love from some of their most beloved brands. She’s also really enjoyed being a leader with the company and being able to grow a team that has a significant impact on the way products are brought to life throughout the innovation process.
“Teamwork makes the dream work, and I embody that mentality each day in the work that I do,” she said.
Here’s some other topics we covered with Preston.
Q. What’s the story behind your experience in dietetics and how you came to work at Hershey’s?
A. My journey is a bit of a windy road. I received my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in kinesiology and exercise science. While I was getting my master’s degree, I had a clinical assistantship at the cardiac rehab facility which included helping the registered dietitian on staff set up a new lipid clinic. My work with her really ignited my love for nutrition and I felt like having the combination of exercise science and nutrition would be very valuable as a career.
That took my journey back to Penn State where I received my Ph.D. in nutritional sciences under the mentorship of Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton. She is also an RD and I knew I wanted to be more clinically focused, so I also then completed a dietetic internship. As part of my internship, we had a four-week enrichment rotation at the end to choose an area of focus. The last study that I ran during my Ph.D. life was a macadamia nut trial, funded by Hershey, so I reached out to staff and they accepted me for that four-week rotation. A position opened up, I interviewed on the last day of my internship and the rest is history!
Q. Describe your role. What are your responsibilities, and what does the day-to-day look like?
A. In this role leading the nutrition and regulatory team that works within research and development at Hershey, I provide strategic leadership of regulatory assessments and nutrition science-based guidance for the advancement of new and emerging technologies, the launch of new products, the development of nutrition communication materials and the implications of legislative, regulatory and nutrition policy changes.
On a daily basis, this means a lot of meetings with both technical peers, including food scientists and other regulatory professionals and business partners, including marketers, consumer researchers, finance professionals and more! My role in the food industry is very collaborative and I get to work with a lot of different professionals on a wide range of topics — that’s one thing that I really love about my job!
Q. What is one thing you wish you had known before starting your career in dietetics?
A. Given the setting that I work in, I wish that I had taken at least a couple of business courses throughout my educational journey. I have had the ability to take formal learnings in my current role and receive lots of on-the-job training and mentoring in this area but I think having a stronger base before I entered the food industry would have been beneficial.
Q. What has helped you move forward in your role?
A. Two big things that have helped me move forward in my role are my strong collaborative nature and my strength in communicating. Each of the teams that I work with on a day-to-day basis likely include people from several different business functions. I have learned that I’m wired for “people connections” and building collaborations, so that has allowed me to excel in this type of environment. I recently led a large cross-functional team that represented just about every area of the business, and will now be translating that into an even broader team that will impact our entire portfolio, across the globe.
One of the most powerful skills that an RD has is the ability to communicate and translate nutrition science to our non-technical friends. I learned early in my career that the ability to effectively communicate the impact of nutrition and nutrition policy to the business was essential. By demonstrating the value of this type of role to leadership, I have been able to not only succeed in my role, but have also grown a strong team to provide an even bigger impact in this area to the business.
Q. What program or initiative are you most proud of?
A. One of the initiatives that I’m most proud of is the development of a fortified peanut butter snack for children in Ghana. As part of that project, I researched the state of nutrition for children in Ghana to understand which nutrient deficiencies we should focus on and ultimately worked with the team to recommend the appropriate micronutrient blend for this product. We also had to take into account local regulations, food safety and shelf-life considerations.
Hershey’s distributes the product, ViVi, to school children in cocoa-growing communities. In 2022, we reached approximately 53,000 children daily in 174 schools in cocoa-growing communities. In addition, ViVi is produced in factories that employ local men and women and, in Ghana, provides a secure market for local peanut farmers. We also worked with researchers and demonstrated that providing ViVi improves children’s health and increases school enrollment and regular attendance while also enabling improved academic performance.
Q. Have any “hot topics” in the dietetics/nutrition industry impacted the way you do things?
A. One of the hot topics that has impacted the way we do things is the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health that was held in late 2022. Many of the topics that were included in the report have the potential to impact our business, including front-of-pack labeling, added sugar reduction and sodium reduction. As a Hershey representative on several trade groups and associations, it has been a great experience to work with many of my peers across the food industry on these topics and so much more!
Amy Preston, Ph.D., RD, received her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology at The Pennsylvania State University and her master’s degree in exercise physiology at The University of Virginia. Preston earned her Ph.D. in nutritional sciences at The Pennsylvania State University and subsequently completed her dietetic internship also at Penn State. Preston joined The Hershey Company more than 16 years ago as a nutrition scientist and has progressed to hold leadership roles within research and development. Preston is the senior manager of R&D regulatory and nutrition.