Having once dreamed of being a TV news anchor, Michelle Fricke Kijek discovered early on that her talent and skills were best suited behind the scenes. She has spent nearly 30 years in food & nutrition communications, creating messaging and award-winning campaigns for a number of household brands—such as Sabra, Welch’s, and Kellogg’s—and agricultural commodities such as beef, potatoes, and eggs.
After working at some of the largest PR agencies, Kijek is now branching out into independent consulting and joining the Nutrition On Demand team. Most recently, Kijek spent nearly 15 years at FoodMinds, which she co-led for the past four years and where she helped clients navigate the ever-evolving nutrition landscape to achieve business goals and improve public health. As Nutrition On Demand’s newest partner and lead communicator/changemaker, Kijek will continue to build strategic programs, research pipelines, and communications initiatives for a variety of stakeholders. In our Q&A with Kijek she discusses her foray into the food & nutrition world, her unique approach when working with clients, and becoming a role model for her daughter.
How did you end up in nutrition communications?
I love writing and storytelling. Growing up I wanted to be a broadcast journalist, but I realized that rather than being in front of the audience, I really wanted to create the content and messages delivered to people. When I started in PR, some of my early clients were in food and nutrition, and I loved the opportunity to affect public health while also helping clients protect or promote their position in the marketplace. And working in the food industry is tons of fun!
What led you to Nutrition On Demand?
I’ve known Shelley [Maniscalco, Nutrition On Demand’s founder and partner] for most of my career. Nearly 20 years ago we collaborated on programs to help translate the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to consumers. I’ve been so fortunate to work with smart and talented people throughout my career, including Shelley and my recent colleagues at FoodMinds. I’m excited to continue to follow my passion and work within a small, flexible team of nutrition affairs specialists.
What perspectives do you bring to food and nutrition communications?
I really love translating scientific research so it’s understandable and meaningful to a variety of audiences. In my role, I help clients build research strategies and then communicate the evidence with a credible, clear voice. Consumers and health professionals are looking for greater transparency, especially with food and health, so it’s even more important that everything is informed by the science and authentically delivered to our target audiences. I’ve also worked with clients during the last few rounds of the Dietary Guidelines, helping them apply those recommendations to their communications materials and trying to ensure Americans have access to easy-to-understand, relevant resources to build healthier habits.
You’ve also assisted clients in the emerging field of sustainable, healthy food systems.
How we define and create sustainable, healthy food systems is rapidly evolving, and much more science is needed to generate consensus for a holistic definition of a truly sustainable and healthy food system. We need to better understand a food’s overall contributions–including its value to human health and nutrition; environmental effects; societal and cultural implications; and socioeconomic impacts–and how all those factors work together to inform healthy, sustainable food systems. I’m thrilled we’re now addressing all aspects of food’s role in health–to humans, the planet, our economy, and culture– and I’m excited to see how the science can inform public health recommendations.
What do you find so unique about Nutrition On Demand?
The Nutrition On Demand team has worked within and in partnership with federal agencies that lead food and nutrition programs. These first-hand insights uniquely enable us to counsel clients and help them build effective campaigns that can translate dietary guidance to Americans. I love creating new pathways to creatively tell a science-based story about a food’s role in a healthy lifestyle. This team appreciates all aspects of that process, from building a robust scientific pipeline and educating health professionals, to engaging with stakeholders who can credibly amplify your messages.
I also love that my career fuels my passion for food, health and wellness. I appreciate the unique opportunity to work in this space while being a role model for my daughter by teaching her healthy habits and inspiring her to follow her dreams. I’m so grateful I’ve been able to follow my dreams, while learning and laughing every day.
Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Fred Durso, Jr.