Retail Dietitian Close Up: Julie Andrews, Festival Foods

Retail Dietitian Close Up: Julie Andrews, Festival Foods

April 8, 2015
Retail Dietitian Profiles

Julie is a nationally accredited, Wisconsin state-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Julie is the Fox Valley Regional Health and Wellness Manager, where she manages nutrition programing in the Fox Valley area stores. Julie is the team’s first Chef and writes The Hot Dish weekly blog as well as creates new items for Festival Food’s Eat Well program. She enjoys developing nutritious recipes while using NuVal® Nutritional Scoring System to make healthy eating both enjoyable and convenient! In addition to in-store nutrition programming, Julie partners with Fox Valley area health care systems, school districts, businesses, and community groups to promote nutrition, health and wellness. She is passionate about teaching guests healthy cooking techniques and providing healthy meal options in the supermarket!

Tell us about your store:

Festival Foods, a family-owned company operating stores strategically throughout Wisconsin, was founded as Skogen’s IGA by Paul and Jane Skogen in 1946 in Onalaska, Wis. With only $500 of borrowed money and a lot of enthusiasm, Paul and Jane began the company which now operates 20 full-service, state-of-the art supermarkets and employs more than 5,000 full and part-time associates. Festival Foods is well known for its “Boomerang Principle.” Every business decision our company makes is based on the question, “Will it bring the customer back?”

What’s the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?

After four years leading an employee wellness program and providing nutrition counseling at United Health Care, I took a position with Festival Foods as the Regional Health & Wellness Manager for the Fox Valley area.  I wanted to have more of a presence in the community and the ability to help shoppers make nutritious food choices. I also wanted the ability to provide cooking demos and classes for the community as a way to inspire them to cook more at home!

Please also share your educational background

  • Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from Eastern Michigan University
  • Completed the Coordinated Program in Dietetics
  • Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences from Grand Valley State University (go Lakers!)
  • Associate degree in Culinary Arts from Fox Valley Technical College

Do you believe all retail RDs should have some culinary experience or expertise?

I think it is extremely helpful to have culinary expertise as an RD! Showing customers fun and unique ways to use ingredients and products from our store is a great way to enhance your retailer’s brand and your credibility as an RD. Being able to provide cooking demos and teach cooking classes is an art {it takes more than just knowing how to cook for yourself}, so I think it’s a skill retail RDs would benefit from having.  

If so, what are some ways for RDs to gain this experience? 

A culinary education can provide additional cooking skills and food knowledge. While culinary school may not be an option for everyone, an RD could gain cooking skills in many ways; here are a few examples:

  • Volunteer to cook in your store’s perishable departments (deli, meat, café)
  • Provide simple in-store recipe demonstrations, such as preparing a grain salad, and work your way up to more complex recipe demos
  • Participate in community cooking classes
  • Follow step-by-step cooking blogs to learn specific cooking techniques
  • Watch cooking demos on TV or YouTube or attend food shows and seminars with cooking demonstrations
  • And most importantly, practice, practice, practice! Provide a demonstration for your family or friends at home. Before my first big cooking demo, I practiced the demonstration in front of my colleagues; it improved my confidence and made me less anxious when I was in front of a big crowd! 

What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in retail industry?

It’s difficult to make the community aware of all that we offer as retail dietitians. Most of them think we can provide counseling, but we don’t have that capability in our stores. That can make it difficult to differentiate ourselves from clinical dietitians. The best way to explain it is that we can bridge the gap between your clinical dietitian’s recommendations and actually making purchasing decisions in the grocery store.

Because it is a newer field, many outlets have limited positions for RDs at this time. This can make it difficult to advance projects. The challenge has been to broaden the scope for RDs in the retail industry so that our full potential is realized.

What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?

The competitiveness of the business environment was a bit of a surprise to me. While surprising, I found that I thrive in the competitive environment because it has helped me think quickly on my feet and regularly try new things. 

Has there been anything specific that has held you back? If yes, tell us about this and how you dealt with it.

Sometimes big ideas require extra thought in order to work around any potential objections. There are times when I’ve had to reapproach a proposal in a different way to show how it may benefit the entire company.

In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward? If yes, tell us about this.

I think having a culinary arts background has allowed me to create and become involved in unique and innovative projects. Having a passion about cooking and staying on top of {or even ahead of} food trends has assisted me in being the “go to” girl for all things food.

What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?

Networking with other retail RDs, becoming more involved in Retail Dietitian Business Alliance and Food and Culinary Professionals Dietetic Practice Group and reading FMI Daily Lead, Morning News Beat and SupermarketGuru newsletters has helped me learn so much about the retail industry. Being aware of what other RDs are doing and what works and what doesn’t work is very helpful!

Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why. 

I am extremely proud of the Cooking Show I developed with my colleague, Lauren Lindsley. It was the very first cooking show for Festival Foods, and we had an excellent turnout of 85 community members; much better than the 20 attendees we initially expected. The event had a Valentine’s Day theme that featured a demonstration for a five-course meal. We showed how to easily make a great-tasting and upscale meal at home. The participants were served the meal prepared by our catering company and a wine vendor provided samples at the event. With smart planning and execution from the entire Wellness & Communications team, the event went off without a hitch! We will continue to expand this program in the future because it was a great way to connect with the community and people absolutely loved it!