RD Close-up: Alicia Blittner, MS, RDN, FreshDirect

RD Close-up: Alicia Blittner, MS, RDN, FreshDirect

May 1, 2019
Annette Maggi
Retail Dietitian Profiles

By RDBA Executive Director, Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Please describe your role at FreshDirect. 
I started at FreshDirect in produce merchandising more than ten years ago. My interest and passion for nutrition has always been strong. Working through various departments and roles over the years helped clarify my desire to pursue the RDN credential. After finishing both the masters and internship while working on the Labeling & Regulatory affairs team at FreshDirect, I now have a role that is nutrition-specific and constantly evolving. I currently focus on three main areas: employee wellness, nutrition labeling and nutrition communications. Internally, I developed and manage our employee wellness program, bringing wellness programming to 3,000 employees, covering nutrition education and healthy eating options, physical activity and events focused on destressing and improving work life balance. As an online grocer, we provide nutrition and product claim information for all our products, both trade goods that we purchase and the finished product that we make in-house. With a versatile website, I can focus on organizing filters for nutrition related information and relevant health options, such as whole grains or lean meat, and have featured pages highlighting lists of certain categories of items, such as kid-friendly healthy snacks. And finally, I have just started building a more comprehensive nutrition communications part of my role, starting specifically with our FreshDirect At the Office business, where I offer a monthly theme to bringing fresh, healthy food into the workplace and advice on how to center that healthy eating around a more comprehensive wellness program.

What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store? 
I grew up putting price tags on the items in my dad’s convenience stores and ringing people up on the register. I always loved retail and food and was excited to start my career focused on private brands in retail stores at Daymon Worldwide, learning in practice about the product shelf placement, promotions and pricing strategies across categories. I then moved on to work in merchandising at FreshDirect and have evolved my position from merchandising to nutrition after going back to school to become a dietitian. Having both the retail and merchandising experience has been essential to working within the retail setting as a dietitian because it allows me to understand the overall strategy of the marketing and merchant teams in seasonality, promotions and focus on driving sales while also pushing for discovery and education in the health and wellness space as well. 

What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry? 
Like all retail dietitians, the challenge is working with the other departments to pulse nutrition messaging at the appropriate time so that it is meaningful and not overdone. I’ve found a good cadence with my team because there is such an interest in it from all sides of the business and our customers. Staying relevant is always a welcome challenge!

What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian? 
Since I was able to work at my retailer for seven years in other capacities before becoming a retail dietitian, I was able to learn a lot ahead of time. As a dietetic student, I worked very closely with our former dietitian to understand the role and the opportunities and challenges I would experience. My recommendation for dietetic students is to see if you can do part of your internship in a store or with another retail dietitian; on the job training and learning is so important to success in this sector of the nutrition field.

Has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?  
The support from our marketing team in the desire to push nutrition messages and embrace themes like National Nutrition Month has been essential in moving my experience forward. Also, since my role is ever evolving and growing, I have always said yes to opportunities presented to me. I’ve found that continually challenging myself has been the key to professional growth and continual learning. Additionally, I love the opportunity to teach others. Teaching helps me brush up on relevant nutrition topics and keep on the pulse of customers or employees for whom I am developing programming and content. 

Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
During my dietetic internship with Wellness Workdays, I focused on learning all about worksite wellness and am very proud that I was able to take those learnings and build the internal employee wellness program at FreshDirect. Focusing on health in the office has been such a welcomed perk for our FreshDirect family and I have really enjoyed the positive reception of the program. I work one-on-one with individuals providing nutrition counseling, weekly exercise classes, quarterly lunch & learn seminars and weekly meditation class as well. 

Background: Ten years after completing her undergraduate degree in Marketing, Alicia became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, earning her Master’s in nutrition sciences at Hunter College in 2015. Through pursuing her passion for helping people eat healthier to feel their best, Alicia works at FreshDirect as an on-site Corporate Nutritionist & Employee Wellness program manager.