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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"Our plan for stabilizing and rebuilding the profitability of our Soup and Simple Meals business in North America is working," she said last February at the Consumer Analysts Group of New York meeting. She also noted progress in international expansion, growth in healthy beverages and baked snacks and expansion into higher-growth categories and geographies.

Just last month, the Food Marketing Institute gave Morrison its Albers Industry Relations Award for her contributions to the food retail supply chain. The award celebrates "excellence in trading partner relations … and the betterment of the food chain through holistic contributions and innovative products.”

Michelle Obama

Nancy Reagan's cause was the war on drugs; Michelle Obama's is a war on junk food.

Michelle Obama, First Lady

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was a vocal spokesperson for the “War on Drugs” during her husband's administration in the 1980s. Some might argue that the current first lady, Michelle Obama, will be remembered for a war on cookies.

Obama's Let's Move! campaign, officially launched in 2010, is more accurately a fight against obesity -- cookies aren't really the target.

Obama, who just turned 50 last month, will of course be remembered as an iconic figure. She is a Harvard Law graduate who was working in the Chicago planning department when she married Barack Obama, who would become the first black president of the U.S. While the president had grown up in the Pacific islands, Michelle was a native Chicagoan, the first of two children of a water department employee-father and a stay-at-home mother.

By the way, she once was on the board of directors of Chicago-area private label powerhouse TreeHouse Foods.

Mrs. Obama is now raising two daughters in Washington, D.C., while working on the Let's Move! effort. Her cause most certainly reflects an awareness that obesity is a serious problem. The food industry might be pleased that the initiative recognizes the need for exercise and better nutrition. It has been clear for the last three years or more that Michelle Obama is no less committed to this cause than Nancy Reagan was to hers.

“This isn’t just a policy issue for me,” she has been quoted as saying. “This is a passion. This is my mission. I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition.”

Largely because of Let's Move! and the spotlight shone on obesity late in the previous decade, more than 40 of the nation’s largest retailers, non-profit organizations, food and beverage manufacturers and trade associations launched the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, with the 16 food & beverage processors promising to remove 1.5 trillion calories from American food by 2015. Instead, they exceeded the goal, and years ahead of schedule. An independent organization found those companies sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in the U.S. in 2012 than they did in 2007 (established as the baseline year), thus exceeding even their 2015 pledge by more than 400 percent.

In a February 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed, the First Lady described one of the obstacles that has kept healthier foods from getting onto the plates of children. But she also indicated that it is not an insurmountable obstacle.

“For years, the conventional wisdom said that healthy products simply didn’t sell – that the demand wasn’t there, that higher profits were found elsewhere, so it just wasn’t worth the investment. Thanks to Walmart and so many other great American businesses we are proving the conventional wisdom wrong.”

That same day, the Mrs. Obama visited a Walmart Neighborhood Store in Springfield, Mo., to help the world's largest grocer unveil its “Great for You” icon system designed to help consumers make healthier choices. In some circles the First Lady's program has been criticized for being too cozy with industry, but it is clear from her comments in the Journal that she believes that cooperation without confrontation is bringing results.

“In Mississippi, obesity rates have dropped by 13 percent for elementary school-aged kids. States like California, and cities like New York and Philadelphia, have also seen measurable declines in childhood obesity. So it's clear that we are moving in the right direction. But we also know that the problem is nowhere near being solved. We need every business in America to dig deeper, get more creative, and find new ways to generate revenue by giving American families better information and healthier choices.”

Margaret HamburgMargaret Hamburg, FDA Commissioner

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wields tremendous regulatory power over food and pharmaceutical companies, and its policies have a broad effect on how food is processed and packaged.

In 2009, Margaret Hamburg, became the 21st commissioner of FDA, making her one of the most influential figures affecting the nation's food & beverage industry. Hamburg, a 58-year-old graduate of Harvard Medical School, responded to questions for this story, noting that the agency and food processors have shared goals and priorities.

“This is a time when we must work closely together to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of our food supply,” she said in a written response. “For example, both America’s food industry and the FDA have faced significant challenges over the last decade as a result of the world’s increasingly globalized food system. In fact, few factors will have a greater impact on the industry in the years ahead. Currently, imported food accounts for about 15 percent of the U.S. food supply.”

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

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