This week I interviewed Lauren Swann, MS, RD, LDN, who has been successfully running her own business, Concept Nutrition Inc., since 1990. Read on to find out how Lauren capitalized on a new market need for food labeling and created her own niche market.
Lauren, you’ve had quite a few “outside the box” dietitian positions over the years. Tell us a little about your career so far.
I worked for a year as a Clinical Dietitian at a large Philadelphia urban teaching hospital before starting graduate school in New England (Boston University) to get my Master’s in Nutrition Communications. I interned in the public relations department of an advertising agency – assigned to the regional McDonald’s account in the early ‘80s, long before their pre-packaged salads or a corporate dietitian! My first job after that was Communications Specialist in the Kraft Consumer Affairs department in Glenview, Illinois working on educational literature and informational publicity programs. From there I was promoted to Labeling Compliance in Regulatory Affairs and learned food labeling regulations for foodservice, industrial and retail foods in nearly all product categories.
After more than 6 years and a couple of more promotions with Kraft, I relocated back to the Philadelphia area and started my own consulting business – this was around the time of the Nutrition Labeling & Education Act and I’d discovered there were many small to mid-size companies in the Philadelphia area that weren’t large enough to hire full time permanent regulatory staff but would need help complying with new comprehensive labeling reform. That’s how I started my consulting business, Concept Nutrition, Inc. in 1990. I also specialized in marketing communications and freelance writing along with nurturing another passion – cultural foodways – and among my first major contracts was co-authoring the country’s first healthy soul food cookbook, The Black Family Dinner Quilt cookbook, which remained in print for over ten years. I’ve by-lined cover features and taken international press assignments as masthead contributing editor for popular press and industry/trade magazines and newspapers, authored chapters in several books, delivered keynote presentations at leading professional conferences, appeared on major television news affiliates and interviewed on radio programs broadcast nationwide and guest lectured at leading universities. I also returned to staff corporate work for a while and established the Regulatory Affairs department for Vlasic Foods International World Headquarters when several brands were spun off from the Campbell’s Soup company.
Since 2003 I’ve been back on my own. Most recently I pioneered a uniquely unprecedented series of industry publicized labeling subtopic webinars with 360-degree perspectives addressing relevant ingredient issues and nutrition variables for product development, marketing and quality assurance applications. I also own Linked-In’s largest food labeling group.
Thats amazing that you had the foresight to see that nutrition labeling was going to turn into what it is today. Did you always know you wanted to own your own business?
What was your schedule like yesterday?
After AM workout (usually cardio/aerobics) and breakfast- Reviewed emails for anything urgent, then reviewed to-do list. Signed a new product labeling client. Followed up on some outstanding invoices. Publicized an upcoming webinar via social media. Responded to client labeling issues for a new child’s product and a line of dietary supplements – both involved researching regulations.
How long did it take for you to start seeing a profit?
Between the 3rd and 5th year of being in business.
Do you have anyone working for you?
Did you build your own website or hire someone to do it for you?
Started as a work in progress and need to hire someone to finish it!
What’s the biggest challenge of being a business owner?
Prioritizing and feeling confident that effort went in right direction when pursuing new business and exploring opportunities for growth.
What is your favorite kind of client or population to work with?
Anything creative! I love a “blank page” with an agreed-upon end goal where I have to fill in where to start and how to get there.
If there were 3 foods you could tell me to include in my diet to make me healthier, what would they be?
Sweet potatoes, tomatoes, black beans
How many nights a week do you cook dinner at home?
What has been your biggest accomplishment in your career so far?
Co-authoring the country’s first healthy soul food cookbook
How do you keep current on all of the trending topics and changing science of nutrition?
Daily news briefings via Google News Alerts and various industry e-bulletins and social media
Do you have any advice for a new RD or entrepreneur?
Identify what you want and the steps it will take to get there and work it – every journey, no matter how great, begins with the first small step. And it’s ok if your journey leads you in a different direction from how you started or what you thought you wanted because you can still end up with the same success of being fulfilled and happy – flexibility will probably only add to that. Go with your natural inclinations.
Thank you Lauren for being a part of the Dietitian Spotlight Series! Be sure to connect with Lauren: