By Sarah Gold
Nicki Briggs, MS, RD is the Director of Communications at Agro Farms, Inc, the parent company to Chobani yogurt. Nicki graduated from the Friedman School in 2007 with an MS in Clinical Nutrition and an MS in Nutrition Communication. She completed her dietetic internship at the Tufts Francis Stern Nutrition Center.
You came to Tufts for the combined Masters in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetic Internship, but graduated with a second degree in Nutrition Communication. What inspired you to continue on with the second degree?
When I came to Tufts, I wasn’t aware of the Nutrition Communication (Nut Comm) degree. At orientation, Dr. Jeanne Goldberg talked about the Nut Comm program and I was immediately sold. It’s exactly what I wanted to do! I just didn’t know it existed. When I came to Tufts, I knew I wanted to do something with food and people, but didn’t know where my sweet spot was yet. As soon as I heard about Nut Comm I knew it was for me. The opportunity to reach people on a larger level is so appealing. There is so much misinformation out there– I love the opportunity to talk to people about nutrition through food.
So, you never wanted to work as a clinical dietitian?
I liked the Tufts program for its clinical focus. Even though I knew clinical wasn’t for me, it’s an important part of the profession and I needed to learn it. It takes a special dietitian to work in a clinical setting, but that’s not me.
I lucked out. After I graduated from Friedman I went to Old Ways, a Boston-based non-profit designed to educate people about healthy eating through regional diets. There, I ran the Mediterranean diet programming including consumer education. In this role, I worked with Mediterranean food companies and went to a lot of trade shows. I was walking the floor at the Expo West and saw Chobani, which had just launched. This was before the Greek yogurt trend had taken off. The product was phenomenal and so were the CEO and EVP of sales. They had so much passion for the product, which was something you didn’t really see at these shows.
After the show, I stayed in touch, and promoted their product because I thought it was so great and wanted to see it succeed. Twelve months later they were looking to expand internally and they called me to work in their 3-person communication department.
How has the company grown and changed since you started back in 2009?
When I started, we were small, no one knew about us. People didn’t even know about Greek yogurt. But, when people tried it, they became fanatics, or “Chobaniacs,” as we call them. Growth was organic at first. We had a strong following online.
I began reaching out to dietitians to introduce them to Chobani. When we talk to dietitians, it’s a two-way conversation; we’re not just trying to sell our product. We support what dietitians do and want to help them, whether it’s through yogurt or not. It’s important to build good relationships with them.
The company has grown quickly. We are now the #1 yogurt company in the country with 19% share of the yogurt market.
As the Director of Communications, what are your responsibilities?
I oversee the Communication Department, which now has 24 people. The Department has separated from Marketing and includes public relations, internal communication, customer loyalty, social media, wellness, and nutrition.
Chobani sounds like a great company to work for; do you love working there?
It’s just the best place in the world. Chobani is such a good product, so as a dietitian, I feel good [about it]. Also, the CEO is visionary and operationally very smart, which enables growth and constant learning.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced working in the food business, or specifically at Chobani?
I really haven’t come across too many challenges. I’m a hardcore fan. It’s important to be impassioned by my product. Also, the company is so open. For example, I thought we needed to add vitamin D into our new children’s product, Champions, since it’s lost in the straining process. I brought the idea to the CEO, we did some research and now the product has 20% of [children’s daily need of] vitamin D in it.
What makes Chobani so great is that we’re a food company, not a marketing company. The company’s goal is to make good products and make people happy.
How do you think your time at Friedman set you up for success in a food business? Were there any experiences in particular that you think helped you get where you are today?
I can’t speak highly enough to my time at Friedman. I left so prepared. The community is strong—alumni, students, and professors. I still chat with a lot of my professors. Students are so well networked. The heritage is strong and there is pride and empowerment simply from that.
Within nutrition communications, the coursework set me up well — it gave me such a broad perspective. I know how to look through a study, and what data to present. It gave me a smarter eye for what to look for.
During school, I worked at the Harvard School of Public Health doing writing and speaking, which added to my skill set. Also, the Wednesday seminars really opened my eyes as a journalist. I learned what to look for and what questions to ask.
Any advice for current students looking to get involved in the private sector, especially a small food company?
The sky is the limit. Try to figure out what you like and what you want to do and carve a new case for it. I’ve created all of my jobs. I’ve never once seen a description and applied for it. The Friedman School gave me the skills set to do this and the potential is limitless.
Also, finding a mentor is invaluable. Whether it’s through Tufts, a job, or your local dietetic association, having a mentor will help you. And, network! It’s extremely helpful.
*Images are courtesy of Nicki Briggs.
Sarah is a second year student completing a dual degree in Nutrition Communication and the Didactic Program in Dietetics. Through her writing Sarah hopes to share her passion for nutrition, good food and exercise. Sarah enjoys running, teaching spin, and testing out new recipes to share with friends and family! Read more from Sarah at www.foodandfitnessfriend.com.