New Food Products

Processors Need to Involve More Women in Marketing Decisions

We need to have more women involved to make our business better and bring our companies closer to our markets.

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

If someone were to walk around any of the major food conventions and then walk around any grocery store they would see a major disconnect. Most of the people shopping in the stores are women, and most of the people at the conferences and conventions are men.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if most of the men were involved with cooking and buying food, but it appears we are mostly involved just with the eating. Our industry is made up of people who really don’t get “dirty” with the products we sell.

I believe this is one reason we have so many new product failures and why retailers make so little profit (the lucky ones…the others lose money). We need to have more women involved in the highest levels of our business. Not for the sake of diversity or any greater social good (which would be a nice outcome) but to make our business better and bring our companies closer to our markets.

I know this reputation is true with many other industries too, but the food industry should be at the top of the list for having women running the business and the brands.

I often ask food executives about using their products and to my surprise and chagrin they often almost boast that they don’t cook or shop…as if it was beneath them. However my criticism is not just directed at men. In recent year, I have asked some of the women executives about their cooking and shopping habits and for the most part they deny any knowledge of the topic.

Perhaps acting like a food shopper or meal preparer is not the way to the top in most food companies. In fact, women have worked hard to show they can do so much more than “be in the kitchen.” So many disparaging remarks have been made about women in the kitchen that I understand. However, the food business is about the kitchen. Some women could have a great advantage over their male counterparts, and our food companies should recognize it.

What can be done? First I think our universities that profess to produce men and women for food marketing should require some sort of education into food preparation. I don’t think it’s the students who don’t want to learn about food, but the schools that think there are much more important things for a food marketing student to learn than what people do with food and how they buy it. I once offered a short course in cooking to my students and the response was remarkably positive, especially with the men (I later found out the men thought that being able to cook was perceived to be a great way to charm their dates, which was not quite my objective).

Food companies should require some knowledge of the kitchen and the supermarket from prospective employees. If strong candidates don’t have this knowledge, the company should find a way to help them get it. How many executives ask their marketing brand managers whether they cook or what they cook or what they know about cooking? We should ask these questions of both men and women, and women should not view the question as sexist but rather as getting to the core of our business.

Companies should require all food executives to take cooking classes to understand what takes place in a kitchen. I think company time should be given so all food executives can do some food shopping with their families. If you have single executives who don’t really shop much they should be assigned to a shopping mentor.

I once knew a CEO who mandated the top executives had to shop in supermarkets. Many of them lived in my neighborhood, and I saw them in the stores. It was pathetic as they wandered around like lost sheep. I’m sure all of the staff were glad when that CEO left, so they could then get back to the “real business” of our industry, making products that fail or paying retailers to keep our products on the shelf.

I am not just advocating for women to be hired or promoted, I am advocating we hire and promote people who really understand our customers and our business. I am also not saying women belong in the kitchen or anything like that. If women don’t want to cook or have any involvement with food, that’s fine (my wife and daughter would fall into that category). Conversely, men should also be made to understand the kitchen and the supermarket.

But according to most reports, women still do 95 percent of the cooking and 90 percent of the shopping, so it’s likely they might have a little more insight than men.

We are in the food industry, and everyone who tries to sell food to customers should understand more than accounting and advertising; they should understand food and even have a passion for it. I do.

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