HERE'S TO THE MOST POWERFUL WOMEN IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY

Some things sadly don't change. After publishing last week's Power 50 list of the most influential people in the food business, I am reminded where the real power lies. It's with men who don't regularly shop or buy food.In the four years since SN has published the list, only nine women have been profiled as Power Players. Four of those women, Liz Minyard of Minyard Food Stores, who also served as

Some things sadly don't change. After publishing last week's Power 50 list of the most influential people in the food business, I am reminded where the real power lies. It's with men who don't regularly shop or buy food.

In the four years since SN has published the list, only nine women have been profiled as Power Players. Four of those women, Liz Minyard of Minyard Food Stores, who also served as FMI's first chairwoman; Betsy Holden of Kraft; Ann Veneman, the first woman U.S. secretary of agriculture; and Eileen Scott of Pathmark, have relinquished their posts. The others, Linda Dillman of Wal-Mart, Debra Sandler of McNeil Nutritionals, Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft, Oprah Winfrey and Katherine Albrecht of CASPIAN, are still active. All these women represent just 4.5% of the 200 SN Power Players over the four-year period.

The problem isn't SN's list. That roster merely reflects today's industry dynamics. Go to any important food event and you can see by the numbers who holds sway. Registration for this year's Grocery Manufacturers Association Executive Conference listed about 450 people, but only 37, or about 8%, were women.

An examination of the gender makeup of executive officers and board members of the Top 10 companies on SN's Top 75 North American Food Retailers reveals a similar pattern. Kroger had the highest percentage of women executive officers, 23%, followed by Albertsons, prior to its sale, with 22%. Wal-Mart and Publix operate with 16%; Safeway, 14%; Delhaize, 11%; Supervalu, 7%; Ahold, 6%; and Costco, 5%. C&S Wholesale Grocers lists five males on its executive team.

The percentages of women serving as directors improved somewhat. Half of Albertsons' and Ahold's board members were women. Publix came in on the high end with 40% women, followed by Safeway, 22%; Supervalu, 18%; Kroger and Costco, 15%; Wal-Mart, 14%; and Delhaize Group, none.

The retail industry, including food, falls short at 11.7% when compared to women holding corporate officer positions at Fortune 500 companies, according to the Network of Executive Women. Latest figures from Catalyst, a research organization that tracks the numbers of women moving up the corporate ranks, shows that between 2002 and 2005, the number of women corporate officers increased by just 0.7% to 16.4% in the Fortune 500.

None of this comes as any big surprise, and it's not like there aren't women Power Players to recognize next year. But it is amazing that in a business where 80% of the buyers of food and CPG products are women, why advancement hasn't been quicker and leadership at the top more dominated by women.

As Kevin Kelly, principal/brand strategy, Shook Kelly, recently told me, "Biologically, women think more in a nurturing mind-set while men think in a conquering mind-set, and the worst situation you can get is spreadsheet conquering men selling emotionally based products, which is food."

Those men at the top should wake up to the fact Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentages of women corporate officers yielded, on average, a 35.1% higher return on equity and 34% higher total return to shareholders than those with the lowest percentages of women corporate officers, according to Catalyst.

It's time to recognize the value of helping women to break through the barrier. If that happens, maybe the list will be heavier with female Power Players next year.