Food for Life: Fat-Free, gluten-free, sugar-free. These days consumers are faced with a barrage of nutritional information. Making sense of those labels can be hard work. What does it all mean? How healthy really is the food we’re eating?

For dietician and nutritional expert, Jade Gibbons the question has become an obsession. Gibbons small business Nutriscope assists big name food businesses by providing them with credible nutrition information and guidance to support their product development, labelling and nutrition marketing messages.

Gibbons tells Kochie’s Business Builders (KBB) she grew up in a household where home cooked meals and healthy living were the norm. She says this simple ethos of ‘good food is good for you’ resulted in a natural curiosity in the kitchen. “I was creating and planning meals from a young age and I’ve continued to do so since,” she explains.

The fitness and health fanatic says a career in the health and wellbeing industry was almost inevitable.

“It is a combined reflection of my values, attributes and interests.  I wanted to do something where I helped people and made a difference, and which also enabled me to problem solve and provided opportunities for creativity,” she says of her business Nutriscope.

“What excites my being, however, is an enjoyment and love of food!  The combination of all these elements led me to pursue studies of a Bachelor of Science (Nutrition and Dietetics) and Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise and Sports Science), after which I became an accredited dietitian and nutritionist.

We are all consumers of food and recipients of marketing and nutrition messages. As such Gibbons believes food producers, suppliers and manufacturers have a responsibility to provide nutritious food and accurate nutritional messages.

“My role and business help food businesses achieve this through providing credible nutrition information and guidance to support the development of products, labelling, and nutritional marketing messages.”

Gibbons tells KBB she was inspired to start her own business after working for a food company in product and labelling development.

“I experienced first-hand all the requirements that running a food business entails, and the competitive food environment.  With consumers becoming increasingly aware of nutrition, I was inspired to find a solution that would both help food businesses and consumers.  Having witnessed the benefit that a true understanding of nutrition provided in the development and promotion of products, the idea of Nutriscope Solutions was founded. “

Gibbons’ role at Nutriscope has led her to work with a number of well-respected brands working on creating new iterations of products. Understanding their business pipeline is integral to the success of these collaborations. Communication is key.

“I encourage open and transparent communication from the onset, including clear understanding of project details,” she says.

She suggests the most vital element of the process is discovering what is important to the client, brand and product range. Such as finding out the brand values, specifically nutritional values and qualities they wish the products to contain, and the target market for the product range.

“Whether it be assisting with recipe development for a product or menu, what is integral to the process is finding out about what is important to the client, brand and product range.  Finding out the brand values, specifically nutritional values and qualities they wish the food item to contain, and the target market for the food item.  For example, a client may wish to develop a menu that is gluten-free as they wish to cater for individuals with coeliac disease (and therefore need to follow a gluten-free diet). Research is thereafter undertaken to support specific requirements and recommendations, enabling the brand to develop products, labelling and marketing messages that have been guided by credible nutritional insight.”

With reports of food intolerances increasing and more people becoming conscious of the nutritional elements of the food they eat, Gibbons says Australians should take note of the labelling on their food.

“Understanding food labels is key to selecting appropriate foods and eating well.  Food labels in Australia and New Zealand provide a lot of information.  The trick is knowing what to look for and what to be wary of. From a nutritional perspective, the most important pieces of information on a label are the nutrition information panel, ingredient list and allergen statements.  For example, the ingredient list is actually an ordered list, where the ingredients are listed in terms of ingoing weight.  This means that the earlier or higher an ingredient is listed in the ingredient list, the greater weight amount of that ingredient is in the product.  This is useful to know when a consumer wants to understand and get a sense of what is in the product.”

Gibbons suggests marketing can be a powerful tool of persuasion, and can often cloud a consumer’s judgement when it comes to making a healthy food choice.

“It may make it difficult to understand the true nutritional quality of a product,” she says.

“Appreciate the attractive packaging and clever marketing, but also be label savvy by knowing where to find and understanding important nutrition information such as the nutrition information panel, ingredient list and allergen statements.

“It is also sometimes more of a case of what isn’t written on a food label.  For example, a product may state that it is ‘fat-free’ however may contain a higher level of added sugar.  When emphasis is placed on a single attribute (for example, ‘low-fat’), it can result in consumer overestimation of the healthiness of the product and higher consumption of the product.  It is, therefore, useful to look at the nutrition information panel and ingredient list for an overall picture of the nutritional composition and ingredients in a product. “

Having started her business in such an organic fashion, Gibbons tells KBB she faced some unique challenges.

“As I come from a science background, the main challenge was stepping out from the technical role, and expanding my role to managing all aspects of the business.

“Even though I enjoy being hands on and learning, in hindsight I would have sought earlier a mentor to provide guidance with business aspects.  On a positive, I love having an understanding of areas that otherwise I wouldn’t,” she explains.

Like any small business Gibbons has faced cash flow challenges but tells KBB that by “considering projected income and expenses, and using accounting software” she’s able to keep her invoices on track and ahead of the game.

Her advice to anyone wanting to embark on their own small business venture is simple:

“Know your strengths and weaknesses, and reach out to others for guidance as appropriate.  Have goals, determine how you plan to achieve these and implement steps accordingly.  Be kind to yourself and celebrate each victory.”

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