by Brenda D. Bustillos, MS, RD, LD
It seems the “best ice cream in the country” employs some of the country’s best allied health professionals; one of them is registered dietitian, Brenda Valera.
“When someone asks me what I do for a living and I mention Blue Bell, the usual response is a smile and a pleasant story of their experience with Blue Bell or a list of their favorite flavors.” Brenda B. Valera, RD, LD, Research & Development Director for Blue Bell Creameries, has 25 years of dietetic experience and dedication to Blue Bell. Brenda enjoys her otherwise unconventional career in dietetics and feels she is “blessed” to be in this position.
Brenda received her Food Science and Technology Degree from Texas A & M University (’79), and completed her dietetic internship at St. Mary Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota (1979-1980). Brenda returned to Texas after completing her internship and had interviews and job offers more in line with traditional dietetics. Her interests remained specifically in the food science aspect of nutrition and dietetics and she wanted to find a position that would satisfy this aspiration. One day, Brenda stated she “reached for a carton of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream in my parent’s freezer and saw that it was made in Brenham TX.” At that point, she decided to send the company a letter and resume and was hired shortly thereafter. It seems Brenda was destined to be the first registered dietitian and Research & Development Director for Blue Bell Creameries.
Brenda’s Research & Development department focuses on the creation of new products. “The whole process of envisioning and creating a new flavor or product concept can be challenging and rewarding. We must work with members of sales, marketing, purchasing, production and warehousing departments and with our suppliers from start to finish. Each new concept is a learning experience with unique obstacles and solutions.” Brenda has the opportunity to work with a diverse group of experts such as crop growers, food chemists, flavorists, refrigeration engineers, marketing specialists, package designers, etc. which make her position at Blue Bell “quite interesting.” Other challenges associated with her position include keeping up with government regulations and ever-changing labeling requirements. “The most recent changes being the addition of Trans fat to the Nutrition Facts Panel and allergen information to the ingredient statement. This is a challenge when you are dealing with well over 300 different product labels!”
When asked about the “perks” of working as a Blue Bell dietitian, Brenda replied, “on occasion we get to meet high profile individuals who enjoy our product such as both Presidents Bush, other politicians, local TV and radio personalities, famous athletes, Miss America, and so forth; along with television interviews and write-ups in local and national publications (e.g. Southern Living magazine). Brenda affirmed that she also enjoys the “feeling of satisfaction when you are able to eliminate confusion or concerns of consumers with questions regarding ingredients and/or specific diet restrictions.” The most common questions her department receives involve gluten restricted diets and food allergens.
“Options for dietetic careers have expanded greatly in the recent past. Although dietitians are always necessary in clinical and food service areas, they are also needed in the food industry, in media and journalism, in culinary fields, in policy-making, and so much more.” Brenda confirms that she felt somewhat “alone” 25 years ago when she first began looking around for other dietitians in non-traditional roles to associate with. Brenda agrees that times have since changed and our field has evolved. One great example of such change is the Food and Culinary Professionals DPG; a group she currently a member of, along with the IDFA (International Dairy Foods Association) Standards Committee which was formed to modernize the Federal Standards for Ice Cream and other Frozen Desserts.
Currently, Blue Bell Creameries has two dietitians on staff; Brenda and fellow dietitian, Christy Fuchs Moran. When asked to report on what it is like working with Brenda, Christy replied, “Brenda is a wonderful leader, co-worker, and fellow dietitian. I think it is admirable that one can spend their entire career with a single company which means that she loves her job and Blue Bell loves her.” Both Brenda and Christy host several dietetic interns (groups and individuals) each year as they come to Blue Bell Creameries to see “alternative” careers in dietetics. Brenda states, “The only advice I would give these students also works for all dietitians: whatever dietetic avenue you have chosen, be open to sharing your experiences with others in your area of interest. Seek out dietitians with similar careers. They can be of great help to you.”