SAHP grad guides big food companies to reach Hispanic consumers with smart choices
Syliva Melendez-Klinger, MS, RD, LD, NCSF
You’ve probably seen her recipes on packages of common foods produced by companies such as Nestlé and Quaker. Or you may have caught one of her numerous television appearances on networks including CNN, NBC, and Telemundo.
But whoever stops to consider that those back-of-the-box recipes might have been written by an LLU graduate? Or that food specialists you see on TV might have earned their diplomas in Loma Linda’s School of Allied Health Professions. Well, Sylvia Melendez-Klinger (class of 1984) did.
Born in Puerto Rico and the daughter of Seventh-day Adventist missionaries, Ms. Melendez-Klinger grew up in Latin and South America, including 10 years spent in Mexico. She didn’t know at the time that her multicultural background would give her an edge as a nutrition consultant--she is now in high demand in capacities such as recipe developer, speaker, and media spokesperson. She currently runs her own consulting business, Hispanic Food Communications.
The first step in her career, however, was earning a bachelor of science degree in nutrition and dietetics at LLU.
“As a student, she was a flurry of activity, which continues to this day,” remembers Professor Georgia Hodgkin, EdD, MS, RD. “Her Puerto Rican heritage is evident in the sparkle, vim, and vigor she has for anything she sets out to do.”
This flurry of activity continued after Ms. Melendez-Klinger graduated.
She began her career as an administrative dietician with New England Memorial Hospital in Stoneham, Massachusetts. Missing California, however, she returned to the state in 1985 to work for the WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) in Los Angeles for three years. This served as a “great stepping stone,” she said, teaching her additional nutritional skills as well as managerial skills, and helped her land a job in 1988 with the University of California Irvine Medical Center in Orange as a senior clinical dietician.
She later moved to Chicago to attend DePaul University (and to be nearer to her fiance, Robert “Bob” Klinger).
Ms. Melendez-Klinger has also worked as a research dietician at Northwestern University in Chicago.
She earned a master of science degree in public service administration from DePaul in 1993.
Then the fun really started. The day of her final exams, Ms. Melendez-Klinger received an offer from the Quaker Oats Company to be a bilingual marketing dietician in the food service test kitchens. She eventually came to take on the title of senior culinary development specialist.
“It was my cup of tea,” she says. “I loved working with corporate. I love the marketing aspect of dietetics.”
The in-demand Melendez-Klinger accrued impressive accomplishments at Quaker, such as executing a sales blitz that doubled sales of branded products.
But her focus doesn’t rest in profits. Rather, it centers on improving health--particularly focusing on the Hispanic community in the United States.
She left Quaker Oats in 2000 to be at home with her children, but only one day after she quit, Quaker called to ask for her consulting services. That’s when she launched Hispanic Food Communications, and has since provided consulting and media services for numerous food corporations, including Coca-Cola, Chiquita Banana, and Kellogg’s. (Visit her website at <www.hispanicfoodcommunications.com>.)
Dr. Hodgkin believes that Ms. Melendez-Klinger’s Loma Linda roots are still evident in her career.
“Her creativity and positive, exuberant communication skills have been tapped by major corporations within the food community,” Dr. Hodgkin says. “A very proud faculty can hear within her message influences from her study at Loma Linda University.”
In her career, Ms. Melendez-Klinger reaches out to Hispanics in America, particularly women and children.
For instance, earlier this month Ms. Melendez-Klinger spoke at the Illinois Dietetic Association convention about how to counsel Hispanic patients.
The challenges in doing so are culturally based, she says. Hispanic mothers express love through feeding their children. Additionally, plump wives are viewed as well-cared for, Ms. Melendez-Klinger explains. Compounding the health issues of Hispanic women is their desire to please others, often to the neglect of their own needs, she said.
“Hispanic women really are suffering from a lot of health problems, more than men,” she says.
Furthermore, when Hispanics immigrate to the United States, they tend to become less active.
“My mission is to really help them conserve the habits that they had in their countries: to walk places, to go with their families to the theme park, to eat as they ate there,” she says. (Ms. Melendez-Klinger practices what she preaches--she and her husband have run 10 marathons.)
Ms. Melendez-Klinger believes her background as a Seventh-day Adventist has helped her in her profession.
“Spiritual life is so essential to being the wholesome person that God wanted us to be,” she says. “When you speak in public, they can see that, and they can be inspired by you more.”
Ms. Melendez-Klinger is one of the lucky few in this world who is perfectly content with her career.
“I feel this is my hobby, and they pay me for it,” she marvels.