Lots of people wear more than one hat in their job; few have as many as Erin Gilgan. As Nestlé Professional’s Nutrition, Health & Wellness expert, she works closely with the company’s R&D team, chefs, and marketing department to make sure that all products meet the culinary division’s nutrition, health and wellness goals. She also develops nutrition training programs for colleagues and customers; and liaises with regulatory and government affairs, while representing Nestlé Professional in government affairs and in the nutrition community at large. Erin graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.S. in Nutritional Science and is currently completing her master’s degree in public health. In what spare time she has, she enjoys hiking and getting away from it all with her husband and her two dogs.
Q. What led you to a career in nutrition? Was there a particular experience in your life that sparked your interest?
A. I grew up in a small village in Northern Canada where I was literally surrounded by the food system—my maternal grandmother, and then my mother, made everything from scratch. They even milled their own wheat. We had a huge vegetable garden, and my dad built an underground root cellar and my mother preserved everything. I took it for granted then but now I understand how unique that was.
I studied chemistry for three years in university, but realized I wasn’t meant to work in a lab setting, and when a friend suggested nutrition something clicked. At that time, the nutrition program at U.B.C. was transitioning from the Faculty of Science to Agricultural Science. They were literally adopting an early version of the “farm to fork” approach.
Q. You worked in a restaurant when you were first out of college. What does that allow you to bring to the table?
A. The Bread Garden was an early fast-casual concept, with an emphasis on fresh salads, sandwiches, and entrées. As a General Manager, the experience gave me great perspective on what it’s like working in food service operations–from back-of-house realities and operations to understanding what our customers wanted.
Q. Your first experience working with the regulatory community was with a company that sold nutritional supplements. That must have been a very interesting experience because of how supplements fit into the regulatory environment.
A. I really learned on the job there; there’s no educational process for becoming a regulatory expert. I worked closely with the marketing director and our researchers, and any time we were introducing a new product or changing our response to a labeling requirement, I had to study the food code, which is huge and very complex.
Q. And then Nestlé came calling, and you went to work for them as an R&D nutrition expert in Germany.
A. It all came together for me there, using my science and nutrition background to support our global food portfolio–developing nutritional criteria for innovation and renovation and working in cross-functional teams to identify opportunities to enhance nutrition. I also worked on the very first market pilot for a nutrition training program for Nestlé associates. Our goal is to have every person in the company participate in nutrition training to enhance their nutrition knowledge.
Q. What do you like best about your current job?
A. I’m a bridge between the science side, in R&D, and the commercial side, in marketing, and that allows me to be involved at a high level in many aspects of the business. I also have access to a tremendous amount of resources—Nestlé is the world’s largest publisher of nutrition research in the world, with 34 research centers globally. As a member of this network, when I need information, I have all of this at my disposal to support our projects and customers. This helps us all make better sense of nutrition, which is a very complex area that is ever evolving.
Q. What are consumers looking for today in the world of nutrition, health and wellness, and how will that drive what you are doing in the next few years?
A. There’s a tremendous amount of interest in “natural” products—clean labels, real ingredients, minimally processed foods. Food allergies are really increasing, and people are more interested in gluten free. A challenge and an opportunity is to make food that’s both good for you and tastes great. So we’ll be doing a lot more work in that area, especially through training, both internally and externally.