A recent survey from Green Hasson Janks, a full-service accounting firm providing a broad range of business advisory services, found that while women in the food and beverage industry are not yet filling leadership roles as often as men, there can be real benefits for companies that ensure women hold their fair share of leadership roles and are given the opportunity to influence the industry’s future. The survey focused on women and their roles in the industry as leaders as well as consumers who are driving the tidal wave of consumer interest in natural, organic and non-GMO products.
Men have traditionally dominated most aspects of the food and beverage industry. The survey confirmed that women are still struggling to take top leadership roles, and the majority of respondents reported that women held less than 25 percent of the total leadership roles at their companies. More “female-friendly” positions like human resources and marketing scored slightly better than other leadership roles.
Industry participants are beginning to see women as an emerging force, however, reporting that women leaders possess unique benefits. In fact, 42.6 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.
Challenges Women Leaders Face in the Food and Beverage Industry
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, gaining investor trust and the ability to make deals, which indicate that the credibility women leaders bring to consumers has not yet fully translated to the financial market.
As part of the research, the firm interviewed industry experts including Sabrina Merage, principal at Echo Capital Group, a food and beverage private equity firm. According to Merage, “the perception that women aren’t as aggressive as men is still a stigma in places like fundraising for start-ups. I think this is totally untrue – women have other advantages, including finesse. The stigma is still there, but I feel it is beginning to diminish.” Another interviewee, Nicole Fry, managing partner at First Beverage Group added that “perceived credibility can still be an issue – women can be seen as having less depth of experience.”
Building on women’s trust advantage, Sabrina Merage says that “it is beneficial for brands led by women to use that fact to market themselves. It provides a different value-add. It reflects a whole community of women out there that are sharing best practices and supporting each other. Simply put, women leaders understand the consumer in a unique way.”
The Green Hasson Janks 2015 food and beverage survey found that women are beginning to take their place among food and beverage leaders at some companies, but there is a long way to go. The authors feel that this will change over time as the industry continues to understand how women consumers drive trends and growth, and how women leaders can be a significant asset to corporate image and growth. The next logical step is for women to take the reins and lead that growth more broadly.
The authors also found that women are already having a profound effect on how the food and beverage industry develops and markets products. And as the industry continues to grow and innovate, there is no doubt we will see more and more women joining the top executive ranks.