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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There's probably no other manufacturing category whose ultimate purchasers are so heavily skewed toward the female demographic. So it should come as no surprise that two of the most powerful companies in this business are headed by women.

We asked our Editorial Advisory Board and others to suggest the most influential women in our industry. Several names surfaced, including academics, heads of some retailer companies and non-CEOs in the food industry. But we whittled that list down to the following seven, who prove that, especially in the food & beverage industry, no one can infuse heart and soul into a multibillion-dollar company like a woman.

Indra Nooyi, Chairman & CEO, PepsiCo Inc.

Indra Nooyi

Did you Know... Indra Nooyi reportedly fronted an all-girl rock band while in college. 

If there's any legitimacy to seeing "a woman's touch" in running a major food & beverage company, it's exemplified by PepsiCo's Chairman and CEO Indra K. (Krishnamurthy) Nooyi. Her 2007 "Performance With Purpose" vision for the company, while promising steady financial success, was overwhelmingly about being a good corporate citizen the world over -- delivering healthier foods and beverages, respecting the environment and improving the communities and countries in which PepsiCo operates.

"A modern company can't see itself just as an agent for short-term gain. There's always a bigger picture," says Nooyi.

Nooyi became just the fifth CEO in PepsiCo's 41-year history in October 2006, 12 years after joining the company. Born and educated in India, Nooyi earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry, physics and math from Madras Christian College. She moved to the U.S. in 1978 to earn a master’s degree from Yale University. She has a husband and two daughters in Connecticut.

Before joining PepsiCo in 1994, she had experiences at Boston Consulting Group, Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri (now ABB). Once at PepsiCo, she participated in several mergers and acquisitions that changed PepsiCo from a soda and restaurant company into what the company claims is the world’s largest convenient food and beverage company.

Named CFO in 2001, she helped spin off Pepsi’s restaurants into Yum! Brands and the company-owned bottling operations into Pepsi Bottling Group. She was instrumental in the $3.3 billion acquisition of Tropicana in 1998. And she led negotiations on the $13.8 billion PepsiCo acquisition of Quaker Oats in 2001.

Her reward was a seat on the board and the title of president, placing her in line to succeed CEO Steve Reinemund, who already was turning PepsiCo into an international food processor stressing health and wellness in new product development.

As president and CFO from 2000 to 2008, Nooyi was credited by analysts with fine-tuning the company's global strategy when both Pepsi and Coke faced a challenging environment in their core market for carbonated soft drinks, as more health-conscious consumers switched to juices and water.

One of her first goals was improving the nutritional value of PepsiCo’s portfolio. She recruited Mehmood Khan, a former Mayo Clinic endocrinologist, naming him chief scientific officer to head up R&D. Together they're executing a strategy that has been turning more of the company's items into “better for you” or even “good for you” products. In the most recent (2012) assessment of that goal, 20 percent of the company's revenues were from "nutritional" products.

In her "Performance With Purpose" vision statement, she called out three bullet points:

  • Transforming our portfolio to provide a wide range of foods and beverages, from treats to healthy eats, to sustain topline growth
  • Finding innovative ways to reduce our impact on the environment, which enables us to lower our costs at the same time
  • Providing a safe and inclusive workplace for our employees around the globe to attract and retain the best talent, and investing in the communities in which we do business to retain our license to operate.

One of her favorite communities to do business is her native India. As we reported in December, the company plans by 2020 to invest $5.5 billion in that country – a nation in need of investment but also an already great market for PepsiCo's products and a significant corporate beachhead.

The investment is expected to expand product development, manufacturing (doubling PepsiCo's production capacity), infrastructure (expanding in rural markets and deploying new technologies with retail customers) and agriculture (expanding PepsiCo's collaborative farming program provides farmers with access to good quality seeds, technical agronomic expertise, bank loans and crop insurance). "Most importantly, our investments will be aligned with India's interests," Nooyi says.

She points to several awards as proof the vision statement is working. In 2013, PepsiCo was ranked No. 1 on CoreBrands' list of the most respected companies. There were similar rankings for respectability from Fortune, Ethisphere and the Reputation Institute. PepsiCo also has received several global awards for water conservation, which has become another pet project of Nooyi and the company.

And how is she rewarded for these efforts? Last year, she had to fend off the public call for the split of the company by investor Nelson Peltz, whose investment firm Trian Fund Management owns 12 million shares of PepsiCo. Apparently PepsiCo's $65 billion in sales and $6 billion in profit weren't good enough to make Peltz an even wealthier man. He called PepsiCo's namesake beverage business a dog.

We're not aware of any corporate responsibility report from Trian Fund. Perhaps Peltz was after the $600 million PepsiCo and its foundation has "wasted" since 2005 in donations to nonprofit agencies working to improve environmental, educational, civic, arts and health & human services projects.

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


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