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Women as Leaders in the Food and Beverage Industry

By Donald Snyder, partner at accounting firm Green Hasson Janks

This article is the first in a series on the Green Hasson Janks whitepaper “Women in the Food and Beverage Industry,” which examines the results of the firm’s annual survey of West Coast food and beverage executives.

Women have built their numbers at the very top levels of business and politics in the United States, so we felt it was important to focus our annual food and beverage survey on women. Men have traditionally dominated most aspects of the industry, and the survey confirmed that women are still struggling to take top leadership roles. In fact, the majority of respondents reported that women held less than 25 percent of top roles at their company. More “female-friendly” positions, like human resources and marketing, scored slightly better. Unfortunately, 34.3 percent of survey responses reported that zero leadership positions were held by women at their company.

Industry participants are beginning to see women as an emerging force, however, and reported that women leaders possess unique benefits. More than 42 percent of responses cited consumer trust and public image as a top benefit of having women in leadership positions. Other key benefits included industry relationships, industry understanding, supplier relationships, relatability as a spokesperson and media relationships.

Qualities related to trust scored highest on the list of benefits of women food and beverage industry leaders. A combined total of 48.5 percent reported consumer trust, public image and relatability as spokespersons as top benefits.

As part of this year’s survey, we interviewed industry expert Sabrina Merage, who is a principal at Echo Capital Group, a leading food and beverage private equity firm. Merage said that “from an investor’s perspective, it is becoming more common to see women in leadership positions. Some of it is generational, as Millennial women (ages 22-45) are more likely to aspire to leadership today than in the past. I look at companies to invest in that recognize the shift in women’s power and aspirations — it’s not uncommon to see women-led companies in the deal pipeline now.”

Another expert contributor that helped shed light on women as food and beverage company leaders was Nicole Fry, managing partner at First Beverage Group. Through its investment bank and private equity fund, the firm helps beverage companies grow and stand out in a dynamic and competitive industry. Fry says that “food and beverage companies market themselves as being led by women because a woman is relatable to women consumers — she can deliver an authentic message about why she founded the company and consumers will trust her.”

Challenges faced by women food and beverage leaders

Women-led businesses face unique obstacles. The survey indicated that these challenges come from various places, and no single obstacle was reported as being pervasive or industry wide. Among the group of challenges that women food and beverage leaders face are raising capital, investor trust and the ability to make deals, which indicate that the credibility women bring to consumers has not yet fully translated to the financial market.

Key takeaways

We found that women are beginning to take places among food and beverage leaders at some companies, but there is a long way to go. We feel this will change over time as the industry continues to understand how women leaders can be a significant asset to corporate image and growth. In addition, as the generations shift and Millennials take the lead, those inside and outside the market will see women leaders in a different light — as the industry continues to grow and innovate, there is no doubt we will see more and more women joining the top executive ranks.

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