What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position?
I knew during my dietetic internship that clinical dietetics was not for me. My dad worked retail for over 40 years, but I had no idea that there were opportunities for dietitians. I started working at Topco almost 5 years ago, and have never looked back. Topco doesn’t have any retail locations. Topco is a co-op of retailers, wholesalers and foodservice companies that work together to leverage volume of private label products to create a competitive advantage. I work in Quality Assurance as part of the Regulatory and Nutrition team. Our team is responsible for monitoring regulations that have an impact on the retail industry and reviewing product labels for regulatory compliance.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Consumer demands evolve quickly. When I first started at Topco, “gluten free” was just starting to become a buzzword, but “GMO” was not even a topic of conversation. Monitoring trends and changing regulations is a never-ending job.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career in retail?
I wish I knew more about business. There was a pretty steep learning curve in the beginning and I am still learning every day. It takes a village to bring a product to life from idea to shelf.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
Once I gained a deeper understanding of my own role, I took advantage of the opportunities to become involved in various process improvement taskforces. It really helped me learn about the roles and responsibilities of all the key stakeholders in the business. I can clearly see how my role fits into the big picture.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
I get involved! There is no better way to learn more about what is going on in your organization than to be involved in driving change. I also subscribe to retail industry newsletters and love catching up with RDs at conferences. I usually learn more about upcoming trends by talking to retail RDs that hear it directly from their consumers!
Tell us about a change that is coming to the industry that you are most excited about and why.
Nutrition label reform is here! The food industry will need to update all products with a nutrition facts panel to reflect the new regulations published by the FDA in 2016. It is critical that all RDs, especially in the retail setting, become familiar with the new regulations. Dietitians can reclaim the position as the nutrition experts by learning the ins and outs of the new nutrition facts panel. There is going to be a long timeframe where the marketplace is filled with products in the existing and new label formats which is sure to cause confusion to consumers.
Katy Olinski MS, RD, LDN is the Associate Manager of Regulatory and Nutrition at Topco Associates LLC. Katy holds a Bachelor of Science in Food, Nutrition and Dietetics from Illinois State University and a Master of Science in Nutrition and Wellness from Benedictine University. Katy is a member of two DPGs, Food and Culinary Professionals and Dietitians in Business and Communications. She has served on the board in multiple roles for the Illinois West Suburban Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.