As Kellogg’s Senior Nutrition Manager ANZ, can you give us an example of a typical day in your work life?
My day always starts with a good coffee, otherwise no-one can think about conversing with me. Once I have my first sip, it’s all hands on deck. Meetings usually start at 9am so I make sure I have half an hour free before the day begins, to catch up on my Inbox and sort out my calendar. At the beginning of the week, the Research and Technical leadership team will catch up on the week’s priorities and then I have a huddle with my Nutrition team to go through our work schedules for the week. Here we discuss the priority work items we need to address and any issues that need escalation. Each day for me is different to the next, some days I can be in meetings all day with various internal teams at Kellogg’s including, brand teams, the corporate communications team, insights, innovation and food development, sales or the legal department. This usually involves pushing the nutrition agenda throughout the business and consulting on a wide range of projects that touch all aspects of the company. Definitely the best part of the job is reviewing all the new foods and exciting products that are launching. It’s such a mixed bag that it keeps me on my toes and I look forward to the next challenge that the job may bring.
A key component of your job is to provide input on Kellogg products to make them healthier for consumers. Can you share an example of a consumer product you recently helped to reformulate, and how your contributions improved the product’s nutritional value?
The Nutrition Team touches every product that goes through our pipeline, everything from a small tweak, to a major product renovation through to a brand new product. We get involved from product conception all the way through to the product appearing on- shelf. Renovations are the most difficult because the challenge is to improve the nutrition profile, whilst staying true to an iconic taste, which is not easy. Some product renovations are years in the making and involve endless rounds of consumer research to make sure that our loyal customers are happy with what we have done. I was involved in the renovation of the 50 year old recipe for Special K® where we added whole grain and fibre to the product and reduced the sodium without changing the taste. We worked tirelessly on this product, so much so, that many of our heavy users said they preferred the healthier version. That’s the best feeling in the world, as a dietitian, to know you have contributed to such a change. Last year we renovated Nutri-Grain® Original where we managed to add fibre, while reducing sugar and sodium. I was heavily involved in the renovation of this iconic product, with such a loyal consumer base it was a risky proposition for Kellogg, but we felt it was the right thing to do. Interestingly enough, this renovation took almost 10 years because we just had to get the flavour right and thankfully it’s been a success!
You began your career as a kids’ TV personality. What made you decide to transition into nutrition science and communications?
That little titbit stays in the vault! I hosted a kid’s TV show in South Africa as a teenager, but when I finished school I knew I wanted to be a dietitian. I started my science degree in 1993 and then moved to Australia where I completed my science degree at the University of New South Wales. I then went on to study Dietetics and finished my PhD in 2003. Having experienced the academic side of the profession through my doctoral studies and working part time in a food industry consultancy, I discovered that I wanted to work with food companies. I love being with commercial people, in a fast paced environment, developing nutrition communications for the food industry and positively influencing product development. I absolutely love working with companies who really respect dietitians and consider them subject matter experts. Hence, I have been working in the industry now for more than 15 years.
What advice can you offer fellow nutrition professionals who want to improve their food communication skills?
The first step in developing food communication skills is to work out the ground rules. Decide on the type of communicator you want to be and your style of communication, then educate yourself on where you can and can’t play. By that I mean, your rules matrix, such as writing only from an evidence base and understanding that the evidence will only take you so far. When you are a copy writer, there are competing interests that will test your rule system and you have to be prepared to stick to your guns. Getting to know the Food Standards Code, particularly Standards 1.2.7 and 1.2.8 to understand how you are able to address branded products is a must if you want to work within the food industry. You have to have a solid knowledge of the Food Standards Code and also be aware of legislation that protects consumers from misleading conduct. I have found that I use this knowledge in everything I do in my professional career. Then it’s practice, practice, practice…practice is probably 80% of what makes a good communicator.
What made you decide to become involved with OzHarvest, the food rescue charity?
I met OzHarvest founder, Ronni Kahn, through a mutual friend. She was so inspiring and I really believed in what the organisation was doing. I mean, what’s not genius about rescuing wasted food and giving it to those in need – especially fresh and perishable food? Ronni and I devised the NEST (Nutrition Education Sustenance Training) program, which was aimed at teaching cooks and residents of shelters and charities about basic nutrition and how to cook with healthy ingredients. Ronni was concerned that healthy items were not being selected off the vans because recipients were not sure how to cook fresh vegetables, meat and other healthy staples. Ronni and I worked together to develop the nutrition materials, healthy recipes and bring volunteers on the NEST journey. It started very small with one or two agencies and is now a nationally funded program with dedicated resources assigned to delivering the program in several states. It a great feeling to put my knowledge to good use for the good of those who really need it and to pay it forward.
You’re a cookbook collector and lover of food. How do you strike a balance between cooking for pleasure — and eating for good health?
It’s easy, if you are a savoury person like me. I don’t really cook many sweet things so I don’t do a lot of baking – although I make a mean cinnamon scroll. I prefer to cook Ottolenghi-style, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. I love making exciting salads with different combinations of unusual ingredients and I have my husband’s grandmother’s hummus recipe which is a winner with some delicious pita and a fresh Israeli salad. I cook most of my food from scratch so just being the kitchen is a relaxing and enjoyable activity for me – it’s my version of yoga! We also love to eat out at unusual and interesting places. At the moment, my favourite places to eat are Nomad and Kepos Street Kitchen, but I am always happy to take suggestions.
What accomplishment are you proudest of, to date, in your career?
It’s really hard to say, because my work makes me proud to be a dietitian. I come into work with some of the smartest and most creative people I know and I can hold my own. I am proud of the commercial skills I have learned over the years in the industry, which will hopefully stand me in good stead to carve myself a great leadership career. You need to have a thick skin to be a dietitian in the food industry because there are many who won’t agree with your career choice. Some people will hurl all forms of accusations at you for “selling your soul”, but if you just stay true to the course, you will see that you can be the one influencing for the change that others want to see from the food industry. Without you there to help them navigate the nutrition environment, change will never happen. Be Proud.