As a registered dietitian for more than 10 years experience, Allison is a passionate advocate for healthy, high quality, accurately-labeled products. She serves as the dietitian on the Exclusive & Store Brands team at Whole Foods Market, a fortune 500 company and one of the world’s largest retailers of natural and organic foods. Allison earned both her undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Nutrition and Dietetics at The University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas.
1. Tell us a little bit about Whole Foods Market.
Founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market, is the leading natural and organic food retailer. As America’s first national certified organic grocer, Whole Foods Market was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by Health magazine. The company’s motto, “Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet”™ captures its mission to ensure customer satisfaction and health, Team Member excellence and happiness, enhanced shareholder value, community support and environmental improvement. Thanks to the company’s more than 73,000 Team Members, Whole Foods Market has been ranked as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America by FORTUNE magazine for 15 consecutive years. In fiscal year 2012, the company had sales of $11.7 billion and currently has more than 350 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
2. What’s the story on your experience in retail and your position your retailer.
During my last year of graduate school, I worked as a dietetic intern for Whole Foods Market where I organized branded products into special diet shopping lists (i.e. low sodium, low fat) and completed nutritional analyses for website recipes. My retail career continued when I accepted a full-time position as the registered dietitian for the Exclusive Brands team at Whole Foods Market global headquarters and I have now been with the company for 7 years. As a member of the product development team, I provide nutritional guidance as products are developed for the 365 Everyday Value® brand and help ensure products are labeled in compliance with government regulations. I also work closely with the National Marketing and Media teams to communicate and promote the great value, quality and nutritional content of Whole Foods Market’s Exclusive Brand products to the community through various media outlets.
3. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
As with many private label team structures, the product development team I work on supports a diverse team made up of many moving parts: buyers, packaging designers, logistics analysts and quality assurance specialists. Keeping pace with quick project timelines, understanding the priorities of the team, and knowledge of the product manufacturing process are all challenges, but I consistently take time to listen and understand these moving parts so I can provide the most appropriate nutrition guidance possible.
4. What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
A general understanding of government labeling regulations (FDA, USDA, FALCPA, NOP, etc.) is important knowledge for a retail dietitian to be equipped with. There was not a course on labeling regulations offered to me in college, so I had to quickly come up to speed with the regulations through my own research, labeling conferences, and work experience. I review labels every day to help ensure we are communicating truthful information on labels to Whole Foods Market customers.
5. Has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
I am proud to be a part of developing products for the 365 Everyday Value® brand and work for a company that has core values that reflect what is truly important to Whole Foods Market as an organization. These values have not changed from time to time or from person to person but they are the foundation of our company culture. This is one of the many things that keeps me going.
6. What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
To improve my confidence, messaging and overall communication skills, I have attended a variety of media training classes over the past few years. In addition, networking opportunities and learning from other retail RDs at supermarket RD conferences each year are invaluable. I am also a trained sensory panelist with over 100 hours of training and provide descriptive feedback to our product developers often as part of our product development process.
7. Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
I worked with key individuals at Whole Foods Market to create a set of labeling policies for our Exclusive Brands in accordance with government regulations and with our customers in mind so we clearly and consistently communicate valuable information to customers on our labels. In addition, I created an internal nutritional guidance document for the Exclusive Brands team to use as a resource during the product development process.