FMI Recognizes Food Industry Leaders

Trade org bestows Executive Leadership Awards at Midwinter Executive Conference
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Headshot
KeHE Brandon Barnholt
Brandon Barnholt

During its Midwinter Executive Conference on Marco Island, Fla., FMI –The Food Industry Association presented its 2024 Executive Leadership Awards. The recipients were Brookshire’s Brad Brookshire, KeHe Distributors’ Brandon Barnholt, Associated Wholesale Grocers’ David Smith, Hy-Vee’s Donna Tweeten, Seaside Market’s John Najjar, Nestlé’s Steve Presley and PepsiCo’s Steven Williams. According to FMI, the seven executives demonstrate excellence in the food industry through their innovative leadership, community outreach and superior customer service.

“The food industry leaders we celebrate today embody diplomacy, service, imagination, cooperation, integrity, and governance – all the noted attributes exemplified by the namesakes of our Executive Leadership Awards,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based FMI. “Industry peers have acknowledged them above others for their inspiring vision, successful navigation of a complex business landscape, and ability to empower the next generation.” 

[Read more: “FMI Honors 7 Food Industry Executives”]

The awards bestowed were as follows:

Herbert Hoover Award for Humanitarian Service: Brandon Barnholt, executive chairman, KeHE Distributors

For 16 years, Barnholt was KeHE’s CEO and president, guiding the company to become North America’s leading distributor of natural and organic, specialty, and fresh foods, with an annual revenue of $8 billion. He was instrumental in transitioning Naperville, Ill.-based KeHE into a B Corporation, advocating ardently for the organic and good food movement. Beyond corporate achievements, Barnholt’s commitment to social and environmental causes is demonstrated by his decade-long involvement with the Chicago-area Young Life Organization.     

Hy-Vee Donna Tweeten
Donna Tweeten

Esther Peterson Award for Consumer Service: Donna Tweeten, president, Hy-Vee, Inc.  

Joining West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee in 2006 as assistant VP of communications, Tweeten went on to become Hy-Vee Inc.’s first female president by the end of 2022, cementing her position as a prominent figure in the grocery industry. While at Hy-Vee, she developed transformative initiatives, fostering the company’s evolution into an icon beloved for its exceptional service and community support. Tweeten’s tenure has seen the inception of such innovative programs as Hy-Vee’s loyalty initiatives, the RedMedia retail network and the inspiring philanthropy of the One Step program.       

[Read more: "Hy-Vee President Named 2023 Top Women in Grocery Trailblazer"]

Nestle Steve Presley

William H. Albers Industry Relations Award: Steve Presley, CEO, Zone NA, Nestlé

Presley, currently EVP and CEO of Nestlé’s Zone North America and market head for the United States, leads the company’s operations in its largest global market, to the tune of about $30 billion in annual sales and a whopping 94% presence of Nestlé products in households. His strategic vision revitalized Nestlé’s U.S. business, emphasizing empowerment and fostering a culture of innovation centered on consumer needs. As chairman and CEO, he created a transformative portfolio strategy that propelled Arlington, Va.-based Nestlé USA toward profitable growth and helped it emerge as an industry trailblazer. Further, under his leadership, the company has made significant strides toward achieving net-zero emissions, championing initiatives in regenerative agriculture, boosting its renewable energy usage and pioneering recyclable packaging design.

PepsiCo Foods NA Steven Williams
Steven Williams

William H. Albers Industry Relations Award: Steven Williams, CEO, PepsiCo Foods NA, PepsiCo

Steven Williams, CEO of Plano, Texas-based PepsiCo Foods North America since March 2019, oversees a $26 billion snack and convenient foods portfolio, including Frito-Lay North America (FLNA) and Quaker Foods North America (QFNA), navigating all facets of operations. Actively engaged in community service, he serves on various boards and advisory councils, holding such roles as board chair for United Way in Dallas. Williams earned a bachelor of arts in economics from the University of Central Oklahoma and completed Harvard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development.

Seaside Market John Najjar
John Najjar

Robert B. Wegman Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence: John Najjar, president, Seaside Market

Raised by a Detroit grocer who catered to the area’s Chaldean community, John Najjar and his brother, Peter, relocated to San Diego in 1976 and purchased an abandoned store. That move ultimately led to the opening of 17,000-square-foot Seaside Market following considerable renovations in 2013. Choosing not to expand beyond their current location, aside from a kiosk at Petco Park, the Najjar brothers created a vibrant shopping experience in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif. Seaside Market serves a community hub, drawing customers with its fresh, locally sourced produce and perishables.

AWG David Smith
David Smith

Glen P. Woodard Jr., Award for Public Affairs: David Smith, president and CEO, Associated Wholesale Grocers (retired)

David Smith, former president and CEO of Kansas City, Kan.-based Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. (AWG), concluded a remarkable 20-year tenure in December 2023. During his 48 years in the industry, including 36 years in wholesale, Smith prioritized advocacy for independent grocery operators, regularly engaging with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and testifying before legislative bodies on such key industry issues as workforce supply and regulatory enforcement, as well as supply chain and sustainability. Rising through AWG's ranks, he became CEO in 2015, having previously held pivotal roles like EVP of operations and COO. Smith also received the National Grocers Association’s Clarence G. Adamy Great American Award in 2022 for his national-level advocacy.

BGC Brad Brookshire
Brad Brookshire

Sidney R. Rabb Award for Statesmanship: Brad Brookshire, chairman and CEO, Brookshire Grocery Co. (BGC), Tyler, Texas

Brookshire’s leadership has fostered employee-partners' admiration and respect through his focus on community welfare and strong moral values, and he’s been instrumental in BGC’s sustained growth and prosperity, Beyond BGC, he actively participates on the board of directors for FMI and Topco Associates, serves as a trustee for Southern Methodist University, contributes to the Baylor Scott and White Health Foundation’s board of directors, and engages with various civic organizations.

FMI Midwinter runs through Jan. 21.

Employee-owned Hy-Vee operates more than 285 retail stores across eight Midwestern states, with sales of more than $13 billion annually. The West Des Moines, Iowa-based company has a team of more than 75,000 employees and is No. 36 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. PG also named Hy-Vee a 2023 Top RegionalBGC, with 17,500 employee-partners and more than 200 store locations in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma under various banner is No. 63 on The PG 100.

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