But he implied the company needs to crank up the new product machine. "In 2011, we have a significantly stronger innovation pipeline than we had in 2009/2010. We are excited about the launch of a great lineup of new products, such as Kellogg's Crunchy Nut cereal and Special K Cracker Chips."

COO: Neil Cracknell, Golden State Foods

Golden State Foods is one of those stealth food processors. Despite having $4 billion in sales, you won't find its name on anything; you won't even find its products in a grocery store. But you will at McDonald's restaurants.

It helps the Golden Arches shine with products including beef patties, Big Mac sauce (which it helped formulate), buns, ketchup and mayonnaise. Golden State distributes goods to more than 20,000 quick-service eateries from 20 distribution centers. It helped launch McDonald's in international markets, which currently span more than 120 countries, and has diversified with 50 more customers since 1967. And up until last December, it was run by a small group of insiders at Wetterau Associates, the investment firm that owns it, with Mark Wetterau remaining Golden State's CEO.

With a number of retirements and other changes at the top, Golden State, Irvine, Calif., plucked ingredient supplier Sensient Technologies' president/COO Neil Cracknell, to be Golden State's executive vice president and COO.

A graduate of England's Loughborough University with a B.S. in human biology, Cracknell earned his MBA from the University of Bath. His whole career has been at Sensient, starting in sales and marketing in 1994 at Sensient Food Colors Europe. He became vice president of pharmaceutical technologies at Sensient Colors Group, division president at Sensient Dehydrated Flavors Group, president of Sensient Flavors and Fragrances Group and then president and COO at Sensient Technologies.

So while new to Golden State, Cracknell has watched the pulse of the food industry for years. "2011 will see an increasing focus in the food industry on nutrition and sustainability," he told us. "As the nutritional demands of consumers change, there are tremendous opportunities for us to demonstrate our expertise at formulation, whether it is reformulating an existing product with a lower sodium content or developing entirely new products, such as beverages.

"As [foodservice] customers look to enhance the sustainability of their supply chain, we have a tremendous opportunity to innovate in our facilities, through new practices or technology, to improve the efficiencies and security of our supply chain.

"Food safety will continue to be a paramount priority in the coming years within the foodservice industry," he continues. "Thus, GSF has chosen to certify its manufacturing plants through BRC accreditation as part of its global food safety initiative."

As a relatively new COO, what changes does he plan to make? "Building on GSF's values-driven success for more than 60 years, my goal as COO is to continue to drive profitable growth, while maintaining those values which have made us successful decade after decade," he says. "One of the main challenges is managing that growth, particularly with our 1,000 new associates and hundreds of new positions created over the past year; it is a period of dynamic evolution at Golden State. One of the great strengths of the company that I have observed so far is the ability of the team to take on new challenges and accept growth-related change as the company has evolved."

How will Golden State maintain growth? "We must continue to provide innovation in product and service to our customers, while delivering industry-leading standards of quality and service," he responded. "We will certainly review opportunities to enter new product and geographic markets. In particular, we see significant opportunities for GSF to expand globally. Likewise, we will continue to develop our people at GSF, expanding our GSF University training and education program internationally, a wonderful tool to ensure that our associates are equipped to deal with tomorrow's challenges."

CEO: Brian Driscoll, Hostess Brands

Hostess Brands Inc.  finally may be on firm footing again. With Interstate Bakeries Corp. emerging from bankruptcy protection under the Hostess name in early 2009, Craig Jung felt he could retire after shepherding the company through four-plus years of reorganization. Now majority-owned by private equity firm Ripplewood Holdings, Hostess moved to Irving, Texas, after many years in Kansas City, Mo.

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