RD Close-Up: Kira Paris Felker, MBA, RD, LDN, Quality Assurance Manager at Giant Eagle, Inc.
By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Please describe your role at Giant Eagle.
I started with Giant Eagle 14 years ago as a student intern, and over the years my role has evolved into Quality Assurance Manager overseeing Nutrition and Regulatory services for our Own Brand products. I have a wonderful team of registered dietitians and regulatory specialists that assist with creation of product specifications and labels, provide input on product claims, conduct nutrition analysis for marketing recipes and product produced in-store and at our manufacturing facility, submit Own Brand WIC-eligible products for inclusion in state-approved product lists, and support various nutrition and food-insecurity initiatives.
How has your role changed since the pandemic?
During the height of the pandemic, most of our corporate workforce were in stores assisting our retail team members to ensure that we were continuing to provide the best customer experience possible, especially with regard to our curbside grocery pickup service, which grew exponentially during that time. Due to shortages, state WIC product eligibility requirements became more liberal, with the goal of making sure WIC participants were able to use their benefits. We evaluated those requirements and submitted products as necessary for inclusion in the approved product lists.
Today, there is an increased focus on food insecurity and how our company can make a meaningful impact, including bringing a mobile market to food desert neighborhoods, providing grocery “boxes” to families who meet certain criteria during healthcare screenings, and partnering with food banks in our market area. Our team of dietitians provide input and consulting services for the teams immersed in this important work.
What's the story behind your experience in retail and how you came to work at Giant Eagle?
After I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.S. degree in Clinical Dietetics, I got a lead on an opening for a student intern on the Sensory Evaluation team to compare potential Own Brand product specifications to those of the national brand equivalents. As a Pitt student, I had worked Giant Eagle booths at special events coordinated by friend-of-RDBA Judy Dodd, and I thought it would be interesting to get some experience in the food industry prior to the start of my dietetic internship with Adagio Health. I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes work on product specifications and labels; and loved that the work of our team had a direct impact on the product that made it to the shelf. After my internship, I was grateful to be able to continue working for Giant Eagle as a registered dietitian and growing my role in the Quality Assurance department.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
Food regulations are ever-changing. From menu labeling, Nutrition Facts Panel updates, bioengineering disclosure standards, to the FASTER Act, we’re always chasing compliance with a new regulation. With a portfolio of thousands of private label products, it can be a challenge. Several years ago, we made an investment in a cloud-based program for projects and product information, and that has been an integral component of being able to manage it all.
What is one thing you wish you had known before starting your career in retail?
Dietitians tend to be very detail-oriented, which is a good thing; however, I have come to learn that in a business setting, brevity is very important when it comes to communication. Being clear and concise in emails, executive summaries, and business proposals tends to be more effective than a long-winded dissertation.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
Though my direct bosses have changed over the years, one thing they’ve all had in common is advocating for dietitians and their expertise, especially as it applies to our role in Quality Assurance. Outside of our group, I strive to introduce my team to other areas of the business and foster those relationships. That way, we’re at top-of-mind when an opportunity arises to utilize the team’s skillset to contribute to company initiatives.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that help you moved forward in your role?
One of Giant Eagle’s core values is “See It, Own It.” A dietitian who takes ownership of a challenge and offers actionable solutions will put herself on the trajectory for career growth. Early in my career with the company, I identified ways to improve product specification reviews and retail recipe management practices. I had support from management to create efficiencies in these areas, as well as launch a project to acquire and modify recipe management software to meet our needs. Since then, our processes have evolved to what I believe to be best-in-class practices for ensuring accurate product labeling.
Bio: Kira Felker, MBA, RD, LDN began her career with Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle 14 years ago, and currently leads Nutrition and Regulatory services as a Quality Assurance Manager. She graduated with a B.S. in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh, completed the Adagio Health Dietetic Internship, and obtained her MBA at Chatham University. In 2016, she was honored by the Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Young Registered Dietitian of the Year. In her free time, she keeps busy chasing after her two young sons, enjoying time outdoors with family, seeking out unique eateries, and squeezing in yoga practice whenever she can!