Prepared Foods talks with Erin Gilgan, whose title is Nutrition, Health and Wellness (NHW) Champion within the Nestlé Professional North American culinary division. An eight-year company veteran, Gilgan represents Nestlé NHW strategy as she collaborates with marketing, product development, regulatory and government affairs.

Gilgan previously worked in Nestlé Research and Development as a nutrition expert in Germany, where she supported the global culinary food business. She helped define nutritional criteria for the Nestlé Nutritional Profiling System. In doing so, she developed and piloted internal and external nutrition education programs, and integrated NHW into short and long-term innovation, renovation and communication strategies.


Prepared Foods: What are a few key nutrition trends you’ve addressed in the past 18 months?

Erin Gilgan: There have been two over-arching trends. The first is an all-encompassing, higher level of focus on well being. This concept is focused on real food that is sourced in a responsible and sustainable way, while it contributes to a varied, balanced diet. With regard to nutrition, we focus on three aspects.

We use recognizable ingredients. We select ingredients that are naturally nutrient-rich (such as whole-grain pasta, real milk and cheese, or fire-roasted tomatoes. Lastly, we reduce negative nutrients, such as sodium, saturated fat and added sugars. The goal is to work with our chefs and product developers to harness nutrition and flavor.

The other key trend or challenge has been to provide flexible, transparent solutions so chefs and other foodservice operators can customize and prepare foods that meet the needs and demands of their consumers.  One great example for foodservice operators is Minor’s Gluten Free bases and flavor concentrates. 


PF: Can you tell us more about trend drivers from consumer insights or your own research?

Gilgan: Consumer demands, new regulations, research findings, trends and the economy all drive what we do at Nestlé Professional.  Right now, the regulatory environment is particularly challenging, so it’s critical for us to stay involved in those conversations so we can be a resource to our customers and partners.  At Nestlé Professional, we leverage our global scientific expert network to continue our tradition as the world’s largest publisher of nutrition research.

When we pair our scientific research and regulatory expertise with direct customer feedback, we are able to provide dynamic concepts, innovative plans and unique product solutions to our customers.  We pride ourselves on working closely with our customers to understand their pain points and offer solutions that accommodate wellness, nutrition, taste and trends. 


PF: So from your perspective, what have been a few noteworthy new products?

Gilgan: We have a lot to be proud of this year. Our entire team has given a new life to our nutrition, health and wellness initiatives.  One example involves our Minor’s Gluten-Free bases made with natural ingredients.  In 2013, Minor’s helped operators serve their guests 6 billion fewer milligrams of sodium with Minor’s Gluten-Free bases.  This equates to offering 28 million sodium-reduced servings.

Another example involves the commitment and rigor applied to our gluten-free product line. While many people must avoid gluten for dietary reasons, there are even more who chose to avoid gluten in their diets.  By requirement or by choice, avoiding gluten can be challenging when eating away from home. 

I’m proud of the level of care we take to ensure that our Gluten-Free products are truly gluten free. We work with ingredient suppliers to ensure they are gluten free at origin. We use special processes to ensure our facilities have no cross-contact during manufacturing and, finally, we verify products are gluten free by sending samples to a third party for analysis and confirmation.

I also truly enjoy bringing value to our partners from a service perspective with our NutriPro newsletter program.  I work with our customers to understand how we can support nutritional improvement of menus; provide contemporary, delicious recipes with responsible nutritionals; or offer customized nutrition training to suit their needs.  We even write and share trend and nutrition information through white papers and magazines on relevant nutrition topics for the foodservice industry.


PF: What’s one of the most challenging aspects of your job?

Gilgan: Our biggest challenge is probably changing the perception that nutrition doesn’t have to be boring!  I’m blessed when I get to work with a talented team of chefs that can make great-tasting, nutritious food a reality.


PF: How do you interact with chefs and food scientists during product development?

Gilgan: With each project, I’m integrated in a cross-functional team to give nutritional guidance throughout the development process. This includes input on nutritional factors that are relevant and important to the product’s intended consumers.  Once we have a good idea of the food item, I provide nutritional criteria based on the Nestlé Nutritional Profiling System. This includes a comprehensive set of nutritional criteria based on recommendations from a wide variety of national and global health authorities.


PF: At what points might you provide additional assistance or input?

Gilgan: My involvement spans the entire process.  Often, I am included in the initial ideation sessions where we imagine the product before we even start making it.  Then, I stay involved as we actually make, test, change and finalize the product.  

There is a continuous journey to optimize the nutritional values of existing products. We’re committed to reduce sodium and added sugars while we increase other key nutrients and food groups, such as whole grains and vegetables. The key for our team is to find ways to renovate a product without losing taste preference. 


PF: In what ways have you improved your internal communications? Can you share an example?

Gilgan: I am constantly trying to keep employees aware of the current scientific trends in nutrition – both for our own lives and for our consumers – we need to live nutrition, health and wellness from the inside out. This considers what we eat, how this compares to recommendations, and things we can do to help close the gap.  For example, right now we’re talking a lot about portion control, guidance on and recipes for balanced meals, and shifting proportions of various ingredients. 

One of the ways I do this internally is by leading training sessions for employees to highlight the importance of nutrition relative to the populations we serve, increase our nutritional intelligence and integrate research and development to provide practical tools and solutions.  In addition, I often present at conferences and help our chefs create presentations that include relevant, credible nutrition information.   



From Diners to Doctors: Nestlé Invests in Nutrition Science

One could say Nestlé S.A., Vevey, Switzerland, has invested in every global facet of nutrition science—all to support its customers, whether they’re diners, dietitians or doctors. Here’s a look at some of the company’s global businesses and related activities:

Nestle Nutripro news magazine
Nestlé NutriPro news magazine covers nutrition, menu trends as part of a larger program to inform and assist customers.

Nestlé Professional, Solon, Ohio, supports its foodservice industry customers—restaurants, colleges and universities, hospitals and other institutions—with NutriPro, a comprehensive program that includes a digital feature magazine, posters and fact sheets (serving as reference guides), custom on-site staff training sessions; and healthy recipes with supporting trend and nutrition information. 

The NutriPro magazine provides on-trend insights and information about nutrition topics such as sodium, dietary fiber, minerals, food allergies, carbohydrates. It also covers trends such as menu planning, desserts, umami, “the coffee culture” and “East Meets West” (ethnic foods).

Nestlé Health Science, a wholly-owned subsidiary, focuses on science-based nutritional solutions. Building on its core healthcare nutrition business, the company develops functional foods, beverages and supplements targeting gastrointestinal health, metabolic health and brain health. Nestlé Health Science employs around 3,500 people worldwide and has its headquarters in Vevey.

The Nestlé Nutrition Institute (NNI), Vevey, is a global information center and research clearinghouse for science-based information and education for health professionals, scientists and nutrition communities. As well as being the world’s largest publisher of nutrition papers and journals, NNI organizes and hosts international workshops and symposia, making their findings available worldwide – often making the most of new technology to do so. It provides accredited continuing education programs for a wide range of healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses and dietitians. The NNI also offers grants to young clinicians and scientists globally, with a particular focus on the developing world.