Top 11 Most Influential People in the Food Industry

Our picks for the 11 most influential people in the food industry don’t believe in the status quo.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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Opening international markets to U.S. companies is a top priority for Secretary Gutierrez. He believes passionately in President Bush’s vision of a 21st century where America is the best country in the world with which to do business and where everyone has the opportunity to experience the joy and pride of ownership and to live the American Dream. “We have the best people, we have the training, we have the culture,” Gutierrez says. “I believe the 21st century is really and truly the American century.”

Gutierrez also vows to "turn up the heat" to stamp out counterfeiting of consumer goods by Chinese companies, an issue that hit close to home while he was at Kellogg. In 1996, just three months after the company introduced Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in China, counterfeit boxes appeared. The courts in China, ignoring intellectual property violations, made it difficult to get the counterfeit cereals pulled from the shelves.

Soon after being sworn in, Gutierrez emphasized the importance of a U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), soon to be headed for Congress, and he will oversee changes to trade relations with Cuba. He walks a fine line – opening trade while clamping down on barriers to U.S. exports around the world, particularly in China, which had a $162 billion trade surplus with the U.S. in 2004, the largest gap in history. He also will face formidable challenges dealing with the loss of 2.7 million manufacturing jobs over the past four years and a trade deficit that has soared to record levels.


Becoming more than just a Kiss

Financial weekly Barron’s dubbed Richard Lenny, Hershey Foods chairman, president and CEO, "the new rock star of the food industry." And it’s no wonder. Since this wunderkind arrived at Hershey Foods Corp., Hershey, Pa., in 2001 from Kraft Foods, the company’s stock performance has been music to shareholders’ ears, nearly doubling. A one-year ROI is 48.8 percent, even though Americans eschewed sugar highs for protein-based diets and obesity was the No. 1 media cause du jour last year.

Richard Lenny, Chairman/CEO,
Hershey Co.

From all indications, Hershey Co. one year from now will be a very different, more diverse company than it is today. At the same April meeting that authorized the name change, shareholders also approved doubling the shares of stock, enabling management to “respond quickly as strategic opportunities arise that would better enable the company to achieve its long-term growth objectives,” according to company filings.

Lenny has dropped some hints about acquisitions. Tootsie Roll Industries appears to be in play, and Kraft’s Planters peanut division might be available. While the broader category of snacks is likely, no one expects Hershey to go as far afield as it did when it acquired macaroni companies years ago.

“The new name conveys our long-term focus on Hershey being a leading confectionery and snack company,” says Lenny. “We're retaining our iconic name and enduring heritage as the key component of our corporate identity."

The company also announced it formed two new business units -- a U.S. confectionery business group and a U.S. snacks business group -- in order to strengthen its leadership within the confectionery segment and expand its presence in the broader snacks market. “We're confident in our ability to sustain Hershey's superior performance and to extend our reach within core confectionery and the broader $65 billion snacks market,” says Lenny. “With the creation of these new business groups, we'll bring sharper focus and energy to Hershey's unique, long-term growth opportunities in each of these markets."

The first CEO in Hershey’s history to be hired from outside, Lenny was a former president at both Pillsbury and Nabisco, then a group VP at Kraft. He’s credited with Hershey’s reach into the lucrative snacks and cookies segments, and he’s brought many talented people from Kraft to the Hershey’s team.

In tune with indulgence/variety, health/nutrition, convenience and value, Hershey introduced a multitude of new products last year. With sales of $4.43 billion, Hershey ranked No. 23 on Food Processing’s Top 100 last year. The company has since acquired Mauna Loa, the leading brand of macadamia nuts and macadamia nut snacks -- a healthy snack segment with immense opportunities to build the Mauna Loa brand and extend Hershey’s brands.

And as the lead singer, Lenny should take a bow.


Counter culture

At $4 billion in sales from 167 stores in 28 states, Whole Foods Market is becoming the Wal-Mart of new grocery retailing. If you want your product in its stores, you gotta play by Whole Foods’ rules … which means no preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners or hydrogenated fats. The man behind this clout is the same hippie who started it all: vegetarian John Mackey.

John Mackey, CEO,
Whole Foods Market

Described as a go-getter by friends, Mackey and a girlfriend opened the first Whole Foods natural-food store in Austin in 1978, and it was operated by and catered to hippies. Success led to Mackey’s acquisition of other natural food retailers around the country. Today, its stores are built from scratch and the layout makes food-shopping fun – you could call it retail eatertainment.

Food safety concerns and wellness trends have led consumers to organic and natural foods. In exchange for bans on foods or beverages that contain artificial ingredients, Whole Foods offers consumers mega fresh, natural and organic options and a fabulous choice of nutritious fresh meals to go.

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