Food Blogger. Humane Society Leader. Author on Omnivores. Some of the newest players on SN's Power 50 list would have seemed like unlikely candidates just a short time ago.
But they are joining the ranks of the power establishment on SN's annual roster of the most influential people in the food industry. Not only that, they are helping to transform the establishment with new ideas and influences.
Coverage of this year's Power 50 list, the sixth annual, begins on Page 16. As before, the current scorecard includes retailers, suppliers, government and association officials, and others. Each year there is turnover, and 2008 is no exception with a total of 14 new names representing just over 25% of the total. It's easy to understand why some new additions made the cut. For instance, one of those was Al Plamann, president and CEO of Unified Grocers, who significantly boosted his cooperative's influence with the acquisition of the assets of Associated Grocers, Seattle.
But what about the players mentioned at the start of this column? Their roads to Power 50 membership were slightly more winding, but their impact is no less worthy of consideration.
One of those is Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, who will be a controversial choice for some. He wasn't seriously considered in past years, but that was before HSUS released a shocking video in February showing the abuse of downer cattle at a Hallmark/Westland meat packing plant in California. Those images were transmitted across broadcast outlets and the Internet, leading to a major beef recall, Congressional action, government regulatory changes and the Hallmark bankruptcy. The HSUS also made headway in pushing an agenda in favor of cage-free eggs, another example of its impact on the food industry.
Author Michael Pollan is not yet a household name, but that didn't stop him from being added to SN's power list this year. The messages in his books, particularly “The Omnivore's Dilemma,” are striking a chord with an increasing number of consumers and food industry leaders. He takes aim at many aspects of the “industrial agricultural establishment” while supporting organic and local farming. His writing attempts to lead consumers to smarter eating choices, part of the reason his work is getting more attention from retailers and suppliers.
What about the curious addition of “The Food Blogger” to our power list. This, of course, refers to a class of people rather than a particular person. Everyone from CEOs to consumers are blogging and sharing opinions via online forums and other postings. Many are offering viewpoints that are brutally honest and surprisingly influential. Food industry companies aim to harness the Internet to connect with consumers, but they also hope to avoid being targeted for criticism in the blogosphere.
The food industry usually benefits when the established order of things is shaken up a bit.
The future will reveal which established players embrace new influences, and the Power 50 list will keep score of the winners.