The Most Influential Women in the Food and Beverage Industry

The food and beverage industry may be more hospitable than others to women executives – who are not shy about getting their way once they reach the top.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief, and David Phillips, Technical Editor

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Irene Rosenfeld

Did you Know...Irene Rosenfeld worked 30 years at the essentially same company … which changed names from General Foods to Kraft to Mondelez.

Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman & CEO, Mondelez International

Irene Rosenfeld is a prime example that sometimes you need to leave your company before you can lead your company. She has about 30 years with Kraft Foods, a predecessor and a semi-successor, except for a two-year dalliance with PepsiCo. Now, of course, she is chairman and CEO of the barely-a-year-old Mondelez International.

Her online bio says she holds a Ph.D. in marketing and statistics, a master of science in business, and a bachelor degree in psychology from Cornell University. After a brief stint at a New York advertising agency, Rosenfeld joined General Foods in 1981 in consumer research. As she moved up in the company, it became a roller coaster of acquisitions, mergers and spinoffs that few chief executives (mercifully) get to experience. For some, she participated in or was in charge; for others she was just a passenger.

First came the acquisition of General Foods by cigarette-maker Philip Morris Cos. in late 1985 – at the time, the largest non-oil acquisition. In December 1988, Philip Morris acquired Kraft Inc., and two years later, combined the two companies as Kraft General Foods. In 2000, Philip Morris acquired Nabisco and merged it with Kraft Foods Inc.

She is credited with leading the successful integration of the Nabisco acquisition, and the restructuring and turnaround of a number of key businesses. She served on the senior team that launched Kraft's initial public offering of stock (while still majority-owned by Phillip Morris) in 2001. Then, in 2004, she left to become chairman/CEO of Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo.

She must have enjoyed all those mega mergers and acquisitions, because as soon as she returned to Kraft in 2006 as CEO (adding the chairman's title nine months later) she directed the spinoff of Kraft from Phillip Morris. As an independent company, Kraft in 2010 pulled off one of the biggest food acquisitions, paying $18.5 billion for U.K.-based Cadbury plc. With Nabisco long under Kraft's belt, the combination made Kraft Foods a global powerhouse in snacks and confectionery – higher growth categories than Kraft's traditional grocery products.

It wasn't long before Rosenfeld engineered another blockbuster, the late-2012 split of Kraft into Kraft Foods Group, a mostly North American grocery products company, and Mondelez International, a mostly global snack and candy company. Rosenfeld went with Mondelez as chairman and CEO.

And while Mondelez took off like a rocket, sales actually declined in the second and third quarters of 2013 (although profits stayed strong). So there's no taking her hands off the steering wheel just yet.

Denise Morrison

Did you Know...Denise Morrison is one of four sisters, all of whom have successful business careers. Sister Maggie Wilderotter is chairman and CEO of Frontier Communications.

Denise Morrison, Campbell Soup Co.

In the previous decade, Campbell Soup Co. staked a very big claim on reducing sodium in its soups and juices. What seemed like a good bet backfired, and Douglas Conant, who had achieved his own turnaround at the company, handed over the reins to Denise Morrison. Who immediately shifted gears.

"Consumers today crave novelty, bolder flavors and foods that help them feel alive, engaged and connected," Morrison told financial analysts shortly after her ascension. "No company is connected to consumers' lives quite like Campbell, and we are well positioned to respond to the opportunities that the changing consumer landscape will present over the next decade."

Novel and bolder products have taken shape in the form of Slow Kettle Style soups in plastic tub packaging, Campbell’s Go soups (in flavors like Coconut Curry, Creamy Red Pepper With Smoked Gouda and Spicy Chorizo With Pulled Chicken and Black Beans) and Skillet Sauces launched in innovative pouches.

Morrison, who has a bachelor's degree in economics and psychology from Boston College, enjoyed a quick climb up the adder at Campbell, reaching the top in just eight years – although she has more than 30 years in the food industry. She began her career at Procter & Gamble Co. and held senior leadership roles at Nabisco, Nestle, PepsiCo and Kraft.

Morrison joined Campbell in 2003 as president of global sales and chief customer officer, then became president of Campbell USA, then a senior corporate vice president and president of the key North America soup, sauces and beverages business. She was named executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2010 and also was appointed a board director. In 2011 she became Campbell's 12th leader and first female chief in its 144-year history.

It was apparent she had a dual charge: re-establishing the company's leadership in its traditional markets and expanding its reach into new, higher-growth areas. "We are focused on rebuilding relationships with our existing consumers and establishing connections to new ones," she said at the time of her promotion. "Simply put, our mission is to reinvent our products and our company for a new era."

And reinvent, she did. In addition to putting some of the salt (and flavor) back in its iconic red label soups and launching the Go soups and Skillet Sauces, she made acquisitions that took Campbell into new territory. Bolthouse Farms, acquired in 2012, moved the company into super-premium beverages as well as fresh produce. In 2013 the company moved into baby and toddler foods by buying Plum Organics. Also that year, Campbell juggled its overseas portfolio, selling its European simple meals business but acquiring Kelsen Group, a producer of baked snacks, including the Kjeldsens and Royal Dansk brands of cookies.

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  • I think you should also include Patricia Woertz, Chairman of Board, CEO and President of ADM

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