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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“We’ve developed a strong set of ‘core values,’ defining who we are as a company, what we do and how we do it,” says Tyson, who is a stickler on keeping standards high. “According to our core values statement, ‘We are a company of people engaged in the production of food, seeking to pursue truth and integrity, and committed to creating value for our shareholders, our customers, and our people in the process.’ As part of ongoing efforts to support our people, we recently introduced a ‘Team Member Bill of Rights’ to make sure our workers understand their rights in the workplace.” Tyson implemented management-training programs focused on dignity and respect, problem-solving and team building, as well as ethics and is preparing the next generation of leaders at Tyson with an emerging leaders development and mentoring program.

“We’re in a global business and need greater access to opportunities in the international marketplace to continue to compete effectively,” Tyson says about the company’s upcoming challenges. “This means finding ways to open – and in some cases reopen and rebuild – key export markets. Developing high-quality food solutions for our customers and the consumer will continue to remain important to us.  One of our goals is to increase our percentage of value-added product sales to 50 percent over the next five years. We finished fiscal 2004 at 38 percent value-added and our goal for 2005 is 40 percent,” he adds.

“We’re bringing to beef and pork some of the same value-added, branded strategies that have worked so well for us in chicken,” he continues. “We developed 400 new products just last year to meet the changing needs of customers and consumers and are in the midst of a new, $75 million communications campaign to market our chicken, beef and pork products.”

Although some analysts think the low-carb diet craze is over, Tyson believes that meat will remain at the center of the plate. “Overall demand for protein remains strong,” says Tyson. “Diets such as Atkins and South Beach have made people ‘carb aware’ and have essentially made it okay for them to eat protein at every meal occasion.”


Good news to chew on

Chicago-based Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. in 2006 almost certainly will not resemble the company in 2004; it will be a broad-based confectionary company, perhaps even compete in other categories. That’s due to the vision of Chairman, President and CEO William Wrigley Jr., the fourth-generation Wrigley to hold the top spot. Since ascending in 1999, he has given investors plenty of good news to chew on – acquisitions, new facilities, product innovation and expansion overseas. He’s also given them the first debt incurred by the company in 100 years. Some observers say that’s symbolic of a company that’s on the move.

Bill Wrigley Jr., Chairman/CEO,
Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.

With sales of $3.65 billion, which doesn’t fully include a billion-dollar acquisition, Wrigley undoubtedly will move up from its No. 28 rank on last year’s Food Processing Top 100 list.

"In Wrigley, you have a company that is focused on aggressive yet attainable goals and a powerful team committed to our long-term vision of doing what's right for the business and our shareholders," Wrigley recently told shareholders. "Our consistent positive results, in the midst of changing conditions, is testimony to the strength and resilience of our company, and the talent and passion of our people."

There were 350 food-industry mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. in 2004. The biggest one was Wrigley’s acquisition of Kraft Foods’ Life Saver and Altoids business, valued at $1.5 billion. The purchase, which moves Wrigley out of the strictly gum section of the candy aisle, was funded with a $1 billion bond issue, the company’s first debt in a long time.

But innovation and growth require investment. Wrigley not only made the largest acquisition of last year, it’s doubled its size in the past five years. The company will open three new facilities this year – in Shanghai, China, and Silao, Mexico, plus its $84 million Global Innovation Center in Chicago.

The Global Innovation Center will be "a key piece of the product development puzzle," Wrigley says. "For the first time, we're bringing together every key function critical to innovation, enabling us to work together in a whole new way.”

While many analysts and shareholders expect Wrigley to acquire other candy companies in the near future, the new plants show the company expects growth from increased worldwide demand in its core gum business, too. “Let me emphasize that we are not in any way ‘hungry’ for acquisitions,” Wrigley says. “What we are is strategic and thorough in analyzing potential acquisitions; and if the fit, the timing and the growth potential are right, then we are capable of executing them with excellence.”

If Wrigley sticks to his innovation and growth strategy, shareholders will no doubt double their fun.

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