Who holds power and influence in the supermarket industry today? That's usually an easy answer: Wal-Mart, Kroger, Kraft, Coke and the like.
But food industry clout is also shifting to players that aren't retailers, suppliers or other members of the establishment. These outside participants are gaining more influence over everything from consumer behavior to industry mergers.
Who are these people? A number of them are highlighted in the SN Power 50 rankings in this issue (see Page 24 for the full list). The ones I will point out appear under the category of "Other Players" because they don't neatly fit into the rest of the segments.
Consider the case of "The New Private Investor" (No. 45 on the list), which is our umbrella name for all the private equity investors now heating up the merger and acquisitions landscape. This includes executives guiding investment companies like Yucaipa, Cerberus and others. Their influence has been felt recently at retailers such as Albertsons, Bi-Lo, Minyard's, Pathmark, Marsh, Kmart and Kings Supermarkets. Why has their impact surged at this time? Private equity has become a larger business and is increasingly targeting supermarkets because of regular cash flows and lower acquisition prices compared to many other industries. This means these investors are likely to have a bigger role for some time to come.
Other members of the Power 50 have grown their influence through independent stances often at odds with the mainstream food industry. One of those is Katherine Albrecht (No. 47), founder of CASPIAN, "Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering." Her organization opposes supermarket loyalty cards and item-level radio frequency identification technology, all in the name of promoting consumer privacy. She co-authored a book on RFID that uses the term "spychips" in its title. Albrecht is a force to be reckoned with because of her strong stance.
Also on the Power 50 list is Michael Jacobson (No. 46), executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest, an organization that often takes an activist role on food issues. Jacobson founded CSPI in 1971, but the group has become more high profile recently in the food industry. CSPI was a key force in the Food and Drug Administration's move to require trans fat content on nutrition labels, a change that took effect this year. It is now trying to bring trans fat labeling to the restaurant industry as well.
There's one more player to mention from this year's power rankings: Oprah Winfrey (No. 40). That's right, Oprah Winfrey. When she gets behind a trend or product, she wields the influence of her massive fan base. She isn't usually considered a food industry force, but her hold over consumers has only grown over the years and is often reflected in the food arena. This year, SN decided to recognize that clout by making her a Power 50 player.