RD Close Up: Courtney Hurlburt, RD, Nutrition, Labeling, & Regulatory Compliance Scientist at Target
By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your company?
I began my Target career five years ago right after graduating college as a non-RD. I started as a coordinator on the Nutrition, Labeling & Regulatory Compliance team managing labeling related documentation, shadowing experts and taking the opportunity to learn everything I could about FDA and USDA regulations. Three years later I was promoted to a labeling scientist responsible for regulatory compliance of select categories in Target Owned Brand Food labels and also supported marketing efforts related to print, digital and in store campaigns. My core role as a labeling scientist is to work cross functionally with product development scientists, packaging engineers, buyers and food safety experts as well as external partners to bring private label food offerings to Target guests. After a few years of work experience my passion for dietetics had not fizzled. In spring of 2016, while continuing to work full time, I completed both the dietetic internship and passed the RD exam. While not required for my role, the RD credential enabled me to be even more involved in product specific development goals and marketing efforts related to nutrition.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
The biggest challenge I face as a dietitian in the retail environment is delighting the consumer. While I would like to believe that nutrient density is the most influential driver of food purchase decisions, in every consumer-focused study I have read, taste is the most important factor. To manage this challenge, I counsel my team to develop great tasting products with nutrition parameters in mind.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career in retail?
Even though consumers say they want “healthier” products, their food purchase behavior does not always reflect that. This was a challenge for me because as I was encouraging my team to develop products with lower negative nutrients and higher positive nutrients consumers were continuing to purchase products that are less nutrient dense than my recommendations for the development team. With limited resources we had to come to consensus and make hard choices. One thing that helped me move forward was to accept and celebrate small victories. As an example, there is not enough data available to convince my team that every grain item we sell should have whole grain as the first ingredient. But what I can do, is encourage the team to increase the food offerings in the assortment that include at least a half serving of whole grains per serving. The goal is to make it easier for consumers to choose the more nutrient dense option without compromising taste.
Has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
There are three important skills that helped me be successful in the retail industry. The first is leading with science but knowing your audience and adapting your message to fit their needs. When I do this, I have found great success in terms of collaboration and team work. Another important skill is having a learner’s mindset. Food regulations are extremely complex, and by understanding how regulations work and always being open to learn I have found that there is usually a very specific reason why food is labeled and marketed the way it is. Lastly, being flexible is an important skill. The food industry changes fast and projects can shift, change or even go away before coming to fruition. The ability to be flexible allows me to gain the most satisfaction from my job as well as be a good partner with those that I work with.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
There isn’t one specific program I am most proud of, but many I have enjoyed. Whether it be related to creating guidance for labeling unsaturated fats, which are not required to be declared in the nutrition facts panel for all products, or working with the marketing team on nutrition related messages on both a product and brand level, I have found much joy in the job I do and am constantly challenged with new opportunities to better serve the nutrition needs of our guest.
Bio: Courtney is a Registered Dietitian working at Target Corporation in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a Nutrition, Labeling and Regulatory Compliance Scientist. She is responsible for working cross functionally with internal and external partners to develop food product labels for Target. Courtney is also a representative for Target on GMA’s Nutrition, Health and Labeling Committee which focuses on industry labeling initiatives such as “healthy”, GMO Labeling, Dietary Guidelines and Label Reform. In addition to her work, Courtney has experience with youth development focusing on the importance of cooking skills and incorporating nutrition principles into everyday life.