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Power 50 2012: A Decade of Influence

Power 50 2012: A Decade of Influence

“It’s only recently that the industry has realized who has the final say,” wrote SN Group Editor Robert Vosburgh in 2003 about the growing recognition of the consumer’s influence.

This year’s Power 50 list of the most influential people in food retailing reflects some of the emerging trends impacting the industry, including the ongoing rapid growth of natural foods (See No. 25, Shon Boney) and the rising influence of digital media (No. 45, The Mobile Consumer).

The resurgence of Wal-Mart Stores and its powerful EDLP message is also reflected, as Mike Duke, the company’s chef executive officer, remains in the No. 1 position this year.

As the 10th annual compilation of the Power 50, the 2012 list also provides a vantage point from which to evaluate the evolution of the industry over the past decade. Comparing this year’s roster to the original illustrates which individuals have had enduring success at their respective companies during that time span, and also which companies have remained influential in the industry under new leaders.

Seven top executives have appeared on the list in each of its first 10 years: David Dillon of Kroger Co.; Steve Burd of Safeway; John Mackey of Whole Foods Market; Pierre-Olivier Beckers of Delhaize Group; Danny Wegman of Wegmans Food Markets; Charles Butt of H. E. Butt Grocery Co.; and Rick Cohen of C&S Wholesale Grocers.

Several other companies and institutions have appeared on the list each year, but under different leadership.

SN’s editorial staff selects the individuals based on a variety of factors, but primarily considering what influence those individuals have over the food industry as a whole. They are grouped into categories based on the type of company or institution they represent, and ranked within each of those categories. 

SN actually first created a list of 50 influential people in the industry in 2002 as a historical retrospective to commemorate the magazine’s 50th anniversary that year. The following year SN published the first Power 50 list of currently active influencers, topped by “The Consumer” as No. 1.

“It’s only recently that the industry has realized who has the final say,” wrote SN Group Editor Robert Vosburgh in 2003 about the growing recognition of the consumer’s influence. “Not too long ago, business models still named the retailer as the end user.”

Consumers have remained on the Power 50 list in one form or another over the years, including this year as a smartphone-empowered shopper.

A closer look at the Power 50’s first 10 years also reflects some of the industry’s ups and downs. Wal-Mart first made a No. 1 appearance in 2006, with W. Lee Scott Jr. at the helm, although he fell to No. 4 the following year.

Interestingly, No. 1 in 2007 was Jeff Noddle, then chairman and CEO of Supervalu, the wholesaler that had just recently acquired most of the Albertsons chain. Last week’s news that the company is seeking a buyer for all or part of the company (See "Supervalu Mulls Sale") shows how some industry fortunes have changed. The current CEO of Supervalu, Craig Herkert, is No. 4 this year. (That article went to press before last week’s news.)

Other past No. 1 players include Kroger’s Dillon, who had become CEO just a month before the first Power 50 issue in 2003, where he debuted at No. 5. He’s No. 2 this year behind Duke, but had been No. 1 in 2008 and 2009 as the company’s customer-focused approach showed its value during the economic downturn.


Enduring Influence

The following seven individuals have appeared on the SN Power 50 list in each of its first 10 years, beginning in 2003:


Highlights from Past Power 50s


The Consumer is ranked No. 1 on the inaugural list, and three Wal-Mart executives follow at No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4.









  Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, makes his debut at No. 48 following the California strike/lockout.









  Ron Burkle and Tim Carroll, financial power players, join the Power 50 list at No. 29 and No. 30, respectively.








Oprah Winfrey is recognized on this year’s list at No. 40 for her influence over consumers’ health and diet choices.








Global powerhouse Tesco comes to the U.S., and its former CEO, Sir Terry Leahy, is named No. 21 on the Power 50 list.









David Dillon of Kroger Co. rises to No. 1 on the list for the first time as the company proves itself during the economic downturn.









SN groups the Power 50 according to specific attributes, such as “turnaround artist” and “nutrition champion.”









First Lady Michelle Obama makes the Power 50 list at No. 5 as her role in seeking to influence nutrition and food access emerges.









The evolution of UNFI as a key industry-wide player in the natural- and specialty-products arenas puts CEO Steve Spinner at No. 20.


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