Jen Neese’s company motto is “Real nutrition for real people.” Her business, The Delicious Dietitian, provides a network of food experts serving patients throughout the Gulf Coast. And her line of salt-free spices impressed one customer so much, he told his boss, Oprah Winfrey.
Neese, a Mobile native and resident, credits her business success to hard work and surrounding herself with quality employees. But she smiles, “I think the hand of God may have been involved the day Adam Glassman walked up and sampled our products.”
Glassman, Oprah Winfrey’s creative director, approached The Delicious Dietitian at an international food fair and was taken by the company’s salt-free spices. He reported his findings in Oprah’s magazine, The O List Wellness Edition, saying, “I am on a low-sodium diet, so I always use the Delicious Dietitian spices!”
Sales soared and so did Jen.
Other glowing reviews followed, including the Miami Herald, Boston Globe, CBS MoneyWatch and Houston Chronicle.
Who knew that a business dedicated to healthy eating could flourish in Alabama, one of the top 10 states for obesity in America? Neese knew.
Her 2009 startup army of one business began life in Mobile as a dietitian, a plan and a dream. Today, The Delicious Dietitian has 13 locations spanning Mobile, Baldwin, Jefferson, Shelby and Walker counties, with plans to expand in Montgomery and Huntsville next year.
“Our goal since day one has been to show people how we can eat healthy, be healthy and still have taste and flavor in our lives, ” adds Neese.
The company has two components. In addition to the spice and vinegars line, the ones Adam Glassman so loves, there is the patient/client counseling service.
Registered master dietitians are placed in more than a dozen doctor offices throughout the state. “Physicians are concerned about such ailments as high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes risks, ” explains Neese. “Doctors do not have time, staff or expertise to work with patient diets. So when the diagnosis is ‘lose weight, eat better, ’ we show them how.” And it’s personal.
“Some have the mindset that dietitians only lecture and scold. Not us, ” says Birmingham’s Haley Kirkpatrick, Delicious Dietitian executive marketing director. “We are not condescending. We work with an individual, develop a plan and assign accountability. We are not the food police.”
Corporations also are seeking team Neese, including DuPont, Chevron and the Mobile Airport Authority. “Eighty percent of all business health care costs are from 20 percent of the employees, ” she says. “If I can keep these workers healthy by changing their eating habits, if we can be proactive, then absenteeism decreases, productivity increases, morale rises and health care costs fall.”
One-on-one participation separates The Delicious Dietitian from the rest. Most corporate wellness consultants address large employee groups. “Here’s what happens in those settings, ” Neese explains. “One person dominates the conversation. One person is too timid to speak. Other people are there because a boss or wife demands it and the rest are bored by a lecture not applicable to them.”
Regardless of corporate giant, patient referral or phone call inquiry, all clients are given a tailor-made program, usually coordinated with their physician but in a living room environment, rather than a hospital.
“We look for employees who have an empathy for patients as people, ” says Kirkpatrick. “Good people skills are vital, and our counselors must meet the highest licensing standards.”
As for the company motto, “Real nutrition for real people” — “We don’t sell pre-packaged, shipped from who knows where stuff you eat for points and stickers, ” Neese says. “Most of those type programs stop working when you stop paying for it.”
The Delicious Dietitian endorses individual needs and assessments. A referral is interviewed. A case is established and goals set. It is counseling and personal training, including “How to Buy Groceries 101.”
“We won’t push products and food on you that can’t be purchased at a grocery store, ” adds Neese. “People have misconceived notions that just because a package says ‘healthy’ or ‘light, ’ it is.”
“Together, we create goals and engage the client, ” she adds. “Our counselors strive for respect and trust just as we have earned the doctor’s respect and trust by his referral.” Together, counselor and client embark on a new beginning. Jen Neese knows all too well about new beginnings.
Raised in Mobile on the family farm, she was taught the value of food at an early age. “I worked the soil, ” she says. “Our food literally went from the garden to the table.” It instilled in her two core beliefs — work hard, eat healthy.
Both were accentuated by a grandmother taken ill.
“She was about 4 foot 10, and weighed 80 pounds soaking wet, ” Neese recalls. “She was hypertensive and a dialysis patient, but she was misdiagnosed.” As a young adult, Neese frequently helped find seasonings for her grandmother’s meals that contained no salt, phosphorus or potassium. “But my grandmother become so violently sick, she had frequent emergency room visits. Her kidneys were shot.” It drove home the importance of early nutrition.
With training in nutrition, dietetics and biochemistry, Neese graduated from the University of Alabama in December 1996. She started work two days later.
Her first encounter as a professional in the medical field was in pediatric nutrition and dialysis units. From there she ventured into pharmaceutical sales, covering a massive territory of physicians, purchasing agents and medical sales teams. In January 1997, Neese married her high school sweetheart, who today is U.S. Army Major Forrest Neese. Soon a mother of two, Neese yearned for a balance between family and work life. She also missed her patients.
In 2007, she contemplated her business idea. “I was good at what I did, ” she recalls. “And I saw a need to provide good diet consultation. People need food experts, not handouts.” And then in November 2008, at age 20, her brother died.
“It was a shock, ” says Neese. “And made me realize, when the brevity of life stares you in the face there is only one life, so take the jump.”
The Delicious Dietitian started with the Neeses’ personal financing and help from family and friends. “Looking back, I think my farm raising helped me in the early days, ” she says. “I’ve always worked hard and worked for everything I have. As a child, I sewed my own clothes, and we ate what we grew.”
Today, promoting her company’s services to potential corporate customers, Neese claims, when an executive asks, “What can you offer my company for my dollar?” — “I look him in the eye and tell him exactly what we do and the expected results. I know all about the value of his dollar. There were times in my life when I only had a dollar.”
“Jen is an idea person, ” adds Haley Kirkpatrick. “When she opened her first site in Mobile, she was already thinking of expansion up here in Birmingham. Her ideas are limitless.”
The Delicious Dietitian’s potential is limitless, too. And it all starts with good health.
Emmett Burnett is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. He lives in Satsuma.
text by Emmett Burnett • photos by Matt Gates