Dietetic Career Spotlight: Karen C. Duester, MS, RD, of FoodLabels.com
By SARAH KOSZYK, MA RDN on JANUARY 31, 2013
President of an international food labeling company, Karen Duester, knows how to be a successful entrepreneur and sell a product needed by many. – Sarah
What attracted you to the field of nutrition and dietetics?
When I entered college, I knew I excelled at math and I also liked science. Being undeclared as a freshman, I found I could join those two interests with my enjoyment of cooking by pursuing a major in Foods & Nutrition. It’s been an excellent career choice for me!
Company you are with now?
President of Food Consulting Company – now in our 19th year – is all about delivering nutrition analysis and food label guidance to ensure 100% regulatory compliance. We are our client’s virtual food label department and the largest contract provider of food labeling services with over 1,500 clients worldwide. I’m so pleased to work with a team of registered dietitians, regulatory specialists and food technologists who together serve our clients from start-up companies to established food manufacturers and distributors, restaurateurs to food importers and brokers. Our promise is to deliver accurate, timely service. As we like to say, it’s everything you need to go from recipe to retail-all with the confidence that it’ll be done right.
A typical (or not so typical) day-in-the-work-life for you?
Like most business owners, my days are highly variable. I talk with prospects and clients to how we can best meet their needs. Coordinate our team of labeling and regulatory experts in the U.S., Canada and the EU, strategically plan for business development, and keep up-to-date with industry trends and the regulatory landscape. I also work directly with our newsletter writer and editor to create our company’s monthly Food Label News (www.foodlabels.com/newsletter) and actively participate and monitor our LinkedIn online discussion group Food Label Community (www.foodlabels.com/linkedin/community)
How did you get your current job in dietetics?
Food Consulting Company was a complete and total accident! It all started when I was 25 working as a Chief Clinical Nutritionist in a 300-bed hospital. I loved this job and imagined I’d be there for a very long time. Then I had a career changing moment- I hit the top of my pay scale. Imagine that, 25 and topped out! Talk about a game-changer. It was an AHA moment. I realized how important it was to me for my contributions to more directly impact an organization’s bottom line AND my personal bottom line.
This realization led me to work in sales and marketing for Practorcare software systems where I stayed for eight years. For the first seven, I worked from my home office in Denver and traveled a great deal. Then, I moved to the corporate office in San Diego as a vice president. Let’s just say that the transition back to working in an office environment was a hard transition that lasted only a year until the next chapter of my journey began.
Being newly married, I mostly wanted to go home to plant flowers and sew pillows. Rather than facing burn-out on the corporate treadmill, I chose to exit gracefully (AKA quit!) and do some consulting projects. My plan was to use the nutrition analysis product I had sold for Practorcare to do recipe analysis for magazine and cookbook publishers. So I started my “business,” bought a fax (it was 1993!), figured out how to write a business plan with the help of a few SBA/SCORE courses and counseling sessions, and applied for a merchant status so I could accept credit cards for my services. Life was good.
Much to my surprise, my clients began asking for analysis in the NLEA Nutrition Facts format, then help with ingredient statements, and eventually other elements of the food label. One thing led to another and here I am today with a thriving virtual team and a business that supports over 1,500 food labeling clients around the world. My favorite quote of all time has certainly played out in this business: “Go as far as you can see, and when you get there you when you get there you can always see a little further.”
What skills were you born with and what skills have you learned along the way?
I was born with a numbers-brain, which comes in very handy for calculating and analyzing the nutritional composition of foods; it also serves me very well in managing the financial aspects of the business. I also think I was born seeing the glass half full so optimism and a can-do attitude seem second nature to me. Persistence and the willingness to take risks are important do, and those were skills that I learned in childhood that I’ve used all through my career. During my Practorcare years I developed sales skills and learned that sales is really nothing more than putting yourself in the client’s shoes thinking about what it is that they need and want.
What advice do you have for others wanting to be just as successful and fulfilled as you?
Be yourself! We each have our own unique skills, abilities, outlook, etc., to take to the marketplace. Spend some time defining and crafting and your Unique Selling Proposition, work hard, don’t give up, give clients what they want, and then be prepared to be astonished by the results.
If you could be paid for your job with something other than a paycheck, what
would it be?
The chance to be fulfilled while making a living. I love that I’m on an entrepreneurial playground and am building something that will last.