RD Career Spotlight Interview: Tara DelloIacono Thies, RD, at Clif Bar & Co.
By TALI SEDGWICK, RD on AUGUST 1, 2010
NutritionJobs: You have been the Nutrition Strategist at Clif Bar & Co. for over 10 years. You started in the Customer Service Department and then developed and expanded the Nutrition Department. Your current role is in Nutrition Brand Strategy, Nutrition Education, Nutrition Communication, and Nutrition Labeling Claims affairs. Tell us how you got there.
Tara DelloIacono Thies: As you mentioned, I started in Consumer Service (CS). They had just launched Luna Bar and were getting tons of nutrition questions that they couldn’t answer. Clif Bar had a dietitian that consulted for them but they decided they needed an RD on staff to answer these sorts of questions. The position quickly evolved into having me train the CS department to answer the nutrition questions we frequently received. I wrote nutrition resources for the CS team. The brand and marketing teams then also started using those nutrition resources, which linked into the development process for new products that would impact the health of women, kids, and athletes. This all fed into the strategy portion of my job, which is now what I spend a lot of time thinking about and doing. Wondering how can we make a healthy product that will really benefit certain populations.
Since it seems like you wear 4 hats, what does the day-to-day of your job look like?
There is an ebb and flow between the different hats I wear depending on whether we are in the planning process for the year, or the product launch for the year, or the season, such as the athletic season, marathon season, or media tour season. Basically everyday is different. No one day is like the next. I don’t have a set plan for each day, rather it is what the company needs and I adapt to that need.
You said the majority of your time now is spent with strategy. Was it always that way?
I used to spend 50% of my time talking directly with consumers (which I still do) but now that our CS department has become so well educated they can do that. Now I work with our brand and development teams to create products, using nutritional guidelines, and then market them in a way that makes sense to a consumer. A big piece for me is keeping up to date with dietary recommendations, what are the latest developments in nutrition for athletes, kids, women, or for healthy snacking. Figuring out how can we make and talk about products, being careful not to contradict healthy eating standards or performance standards.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Having just come back from maternity leave, the most challenging thing is catching up! Another challenge is switching gears and speaking in the correct voice to your audience. Whether you are talking directly to a consumer or to the sales team you need to speak in a way that makes the information meaningful to them. You may be telling them the same thing but how they use the information will be different. It’s sometimes challenging to find the right voice.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Definitely feeling satisfied with the work I get to do every day and the team I get to work with and seeing what we can accomplish.
You mentioned the need to adapt your “voice” to the audience. What other skills did you need to learn along the way and how did you learn these skills?
Medical Nutrition Therapy was never going to be my final stop in my nutrition career, but it did provide me with the necessary foundation in becoming a nutrition expert. I also needed to develop skills in communications and media , which is ongoing and I do by taking writing workshops and attending conferences. Attending conferences is important, as is learning how to stay up to date! It is difficult to stay ahead because over the last 10 years there has been so much growth in the way nutrition information spreads to the general population so quickly. I have had to develop ways of anticipating what is going to be the latest nutrition bug or what types of questions are going to come from the general population and how we can help our consumers.
What conferences do you think it is important to attend?
I attend the ADA Food and Nutrition Conference (FNCE) every year and scour the expo floor to see what’s happening. The natural products expos are good to see what people are thinking about and what types of new products are coming out. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has a really great conference as far as getting down and dirty with the exercise science. I am really the only one in my company who could go to that conference and glean things that we can use. Again, this is changing my voice, getting information across to the population at my office who want scientific backing for the products but don’t necessarily understand all the details. I go to the Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition conference about every other year. I go to the International Sports Nutrition conference fairly regularly. The great thing about the sports conferences is that they are not just for sports and athletes; the research they do is on different populations, which they then try to adapt to an athletic scenario.
What are your predictions for future dietitians and nutrition professionals?
When I started here my job was the exception, and now I think there are more of these interesting job opportunities available. There are more corporate consulting opportunities than there used to be, for example grocery stores are hiring at the corporate level. Being able to self publish online with blogs, online books and magazines means getting your name and expertise out there is a lot different than it used to be. Businesses and food companies are looking for nutrition expertise either to help them market or create their products, or for specific skills, like nutrition labeling. I consult with an RD who has a labeling business and I think there is a huge potential there for dietitians. Especially as chain restaurants in different cities are being required to publish their nutrition information.
What other job search tips can you offer other dietitians and nutrition professionals looking to work outside the hospital or food service arena?
Go to conferences and network, network, network. Join practice groups, get on listserves. Often employers may be hiring for skills that dietitians have but the employer doesn’t know the term “dietitian” and may not know that it is a Registered Dietitian they need. Dietitians need to be on the look out for jobs like that; if you are out there doing an online job search, open your search beyond the word dietitian. Even in my own office they call me a nutritionalist or a nutritionist. My co-workers don’t know the difference between nutritionist and dietitian. Go out there and look for those jobs in communication or food labeling. As dietitians, we have the skills for those jobs.