In 1997, Deanne Brandstetter, MBA, RDN, CDN, FAND, was hired as the first nutritionist for Flik International, shortly before it was acquired by Compass Group. She is now the vice president of nutrition and wellness for Compass Group and one of 150 non-clinical dietitians working in various sectors of the company. Beth Winthrop, MS, RDN, senior manager, health & wellness architect for Sodexo Universities, works with a team of 35 dietitians serving campuses across the United States and Canada. Since being hired in 2004, Margie Saidel, MPH, RDN, vice president, nutrition and sustainability for Chartwells K-12, has seen the number of registered dietitians in her division grow eightfold. And Megan Hunter, RDN, director of product development for Aramark, is just one of the many dietitians employed by the company in non-clinical sectors.
Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are no longer relegated to clinical foodservice. Today, RDNs are valued team members for implementing foodservice programs in corporate dining rooms, across college and university campuses, in K-12 cafeterias, and sports and entertainment arenas.
RDNs are valued because their skills are integral to the current foodservice environment. They play key roles in fostering health, wellness and sustainability trends that clients and consumers demand today. Their knowledge is integral for complying with government regulations, supplying accurate labeling information, developing and delivering wellness programming and helping customers identify healthier and more sustainable options. RDNs are also at the forefront of liaising with client wellness teams, engaging with customers, collaborating with chefs on recipe and menu development and educating colleagues and associates.
“We all struggle with the guest or client who says they want healthy options, but who doesn’t actually follow through when they purchase meals,” Brandstetter says. “The RDN’s role is often to help bridge that gap and get guests excited about the better options in the cafe.”
According to Brandstetter, RDNs play a critical role in providing education, engagement and excitement around nutrition, healthy eating and well-being for their corporate guests. They do so through tasting and sampling events, cooking demonstrations, health promotion celebrations and conversation engagement, either face-to-face or through social media.
Brandstetter attributes her fellow dietitians with contributing to many business successes, including helping to eliminate artificial trans fat-containing oils from their food supply, developing Webtrition—the company’s proprietary ingredient, recipe, menu management and nutrition analysis system—and developing training tools and platforms for educating Compass Group associates.
Colleges and universities
Winthrop credits Sodexo dietitians with helping to create a positive healthy food environment on college campuses so that “the healthy choice is the easy choice.” She also notes their increasing collaboration with other university departments such as working with coaches and trainers to maintain the health of athletes and supporting organizational goals and initiatives associated with improving sustainability and preventing food insecurity.
Winthrop sees the dietitian as an integral presence on campus making a difference in the lives of certain populations.
“The role of the university dietitian still has a great deal to do with wellness,” she says. “But, as increasing numbers of students have medical diet restrictions or value-based restrictions such as kosher, halal or vegan, the dietitian is essential in managing risk and student marginalization.”
“RDNs are uniquely qualified to contribute to the nutrition and wellness needs of students, their families and the school community,” Saidel says. “School districts partner with Chartwells because they understand the resources and expertise we bring in the fields of nutrition, wellness and sustainability. Our nutrition team builds a health and wellness plan for all districts and, in some cases, a full-time RDN is a member of the on-site team.”
The Chartwells network of RDNs provides the traditional roles and resources you would expect from a school foodservice provider, including menu development, nutrition analysis and wellness education in the cafeteria.
The bandwidth of a deep team of RDNs enables Chartwells to do so much more. Chartwells K-12 RDNs partner with schools to build local gardens. They develop apps that put school menus in the palms of students’ hands, providing immediate access to ingredients and allergens. They create training tools and software to allow their school district partners to meet the demands of the USDA and FDA guidelines. And they are a part of the culinary team that collaborates with suppliers to formulate healthier food products.
The evolution of the foodservice RDN
The role of the foodservice dietitian is not just rising; it is evolving and expanding. The model has been for RDNs to specialize and concentrate in specific business sectors, and this still makes good sense. Now, however, many RDNs are developing unique skill sets that allow them to engage in industrywide positions. Megan Hunter, RD, director of product development at Aramark, is a prime example.
Hunter works within a team responsible for developing innovative retail menus across several Aramark sectors. One of her responsibilities is to help Aramark meet its Healthy for Life 20 By 20 menu commitments, an initiative between the company and the American Heart Association to improve the health of Americans 20 percent by 2020 through improved diet and nutrition.
Brandstetter’s role is companywide as well. She resides within the Compass Group business excellence team, which develops nutrition and well-being strategy for the entire organization. She provides support for the sector RDNs through collaboration with culinary, marketing, consumer engagement, sustainability, purchasing, quality assurance and lead teams.
Mid- to large-size foodservice companies are seeing the value of making RDNs available as regional and corporate support across departments and functions, including sales, marketing, business development and operations.
The future of RDNs in foodservice
The sky’s the limit for dietitians in foodservice…for many reasons.
As Hunter cites, “the role of the retail development RDN has evolved over the years with consumer trends and marketplace demand.” Health and wellness is a consumer food trend that isn’t going away anytime soon. As a result, the expertise of the dietitian will only continue to be valued more.
Secondly, the more traditional roles and skills of the dietitian are feeding into the future of foodservice. One example is social media and mobile technology, which are increasingly being used by foodservice companies to inform and engage with their clients and customers. Dietitians have the knowledge needed for developing this technology as well as the counseling and education skills to be the engagers.
And, probably most importantly, dietitians are expanding their skill sets beyond analyzing recipes and reviewing menus. They’re sharpening their knife skills, so to speak, and playing pivotal roles in recipe and product development. They’re developing their management skills and being promoted into higher level positions. They are becoming more involved in operations and marketing, and helping to create and deliver on business strategy.