RD Close-Up: Jessica Patel, RD, LDN Corporate Responsibility Manager at ALDI Inc.
Please describe your role at Aldi.
It is incredible to reflect on the evolution of my career at ALDI over the last four years. Back in 2016 I started as the Corporate RD and supported everything from product labeling to influencer programs to better-for-you recipes. Now, as a Corporate Responsibility Manager, I oversee commitments to responsible sourcing in the ALDI supply chain. I work closely with our suppliers, buyers and key industry partners on our commitments to source sustainable palm oil, cocoa, forestry and coffee. Additionally, I work on a few internal health and wellness related projects.
What's the story behind your experience in retail and how you came to work at Aldi?
When I interned with Hy-Vee during my dietetic internship, I immediately gravitated towards the fun, engaging, and hands-on environment that retail has to offer. I knew I wanted to be on the wellness side of dietetics. Before coming to ALDI, I was a Healthy Eating Specialist at Whole Foods Market where I developed and implemented in-store programs for customers. Learning operations and interacting with customers was a great jumping off point for working on the corporate side at ALDI.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
The biggest challenge is learning how to balance business priorities with health, wellness and sustainability projects. I have learned how to better align our programs with the bigger picture business objectives, but it is a work in progress!
What is one thing you wish you had known before starting your career in retail?
Before working on the supply chain at ALDI, I had no idea what it takes to get a product to shelf and on your plate. Food supply chains are incredibly interesting and complex. I have gained a lot of knowledge on the complexities in the supply chain, which in turn has given me a deeper appreciation for the people that produce our food.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back?
Learning how to navigate corporate culture and effectively communicating my skills to other departments have been the biggest challenges. As the only RD at my company, I often feel like I am on my own island. Whenever possible I connect with RD peers and colleagues working in corporate roles. We can support each other and discuss how to overcome challenges in the workplace.
Has there been anything specific that help you moved forward in your role?
Shifting to sustainability-focused work has brought greater challenges and more learning opportunities. An openness to grow, learn, and ask for help has helped move me forward in my role. This year I focused on growing industry connections and fostering relationships with my peers across the sustainability industry. I have learned to lean on non-competitive information exchanges to grow my knowledge of sustainability at retail.
Is there a program or initiative of which you are most proud? Tell us about it.
In the fall of 2019, my team rolled out a program with our community partner Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK). Through this partnership, we recruited 100 families in the AFHK network to participate in an at-home cooking challenge. My team and I created four ingredient recipes suitable to feed a family of four for less than $40 total! Families participated in the challenge by cooking one four- ingredient recipe per week. Participants that completed all 4 weeks received a $50 Aldi gift card (more than the cost of groceries!) and were entered to win a $100 Aldi gift card. We were excited to encourage the families to cook simple meals at home using only four ingredients! We received tangible feedback from participants via surveys about the ease of cooking, flavor, and accessibility of the recipes. Feedback from participants has helped to better inform our recipe development. Now these four ingredient recipes are live on aldi.us.
Jessica completed her education at the University of Illinois at Chicago graduating with a bachelors degree in Nutrition Science. She went on to complete her Dietetic Internship and master’s certificate in Wellness at Bradley University. Before coming to ALDI, Jessica worked at one of the leading natural retailers where she developed and implemented an in-store nutrition education program for customers.
Jessica Patel joined the ALDI team four years ago as the Corporate Dietitian. In early 2019, she began to focus on sustainability and now oversees responsible sourcing in the supply chain.
In her free time, you can find Jessica in the kitchen cooking, on her yoga mat or walking her pup, Kobe.