The Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink

September 3, 2014, 11:45 AM UTC
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Fortune and our Time Inc. sister publication Food & Wine spent months searching for the most groundbreaking women in the food and drink world. And we found them, placing extra emphasis on our candidates’ accomplishments in the last year.

The women listed below may not all operate at the same scale as the big industry players, such as PepsiCo’s (PEP) Indra Nooyi and Mondelez International’s (MDLZ) Irene Rosenfeld, who are regulars on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business ranking (online Sept. 18). But this group is permanently changing the way we eat and how we think about food. Now that’s power in its own right.

1 Ertharin Cousin

(r), executive director of the World Food programme poses with a child on March 18, 2013 at a displaced persons camp at Mopti, Mali. Fighting continues in desert areas of northeastern Mali where armed Islamists are entrenched. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Executive Director, United Nations World Food Programme

Her job truly means life or death for millions of people around the globe. As the head of the world’s largest humanitarian organization combating hunger, Cousin leads a team that must quickly get aid to those faced with conflict and natural disaster. WFP reaches 90 million people in 80 countries, such as the 4.25 million people it’s targeting in Syria every month. It’s not cheap—that effort alone costs $35 million a week--and Cousin is working to make the massive agency more nimble. She has increased funding (all of it comes through voluntary contributions), cut down the time it takes to deploy resources, and is trying to grow private sector donations. Through a partnership with MasterCard, she’s also scaled up the use of cash and vouchers to let those in need purchase their own food when possible--a move that also supports local economies.

2 Chellie Pingree

Congresswoman, Maine

Pingree has made food policy reform one of her big issues in Congress, pushing for legislation that supports local, sustainable agriculture. She introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act last year with the intention of getting as many of its provisions as possible—such as improved insurance for organic and diversified growers—folded into the federal farm bill. (When the bill passed, many of her initiatives were there.) Pingree can be a strong advocate for farmers in large part because she’s one, too: Some 40 years ago she started an organic farm on North Haven, an island off the coast of Maine. In 2008, she bought a new farm on the island that supplies a restaurant and inn she owns and operates.

3 Barbara Banke

Chairman, Jackson Family Wines

Banke and her husband co-founded the family wine business in the 1980s, but she’s made it her own since he died in 2011 from melanoma. In the last few years Banke has spent millions buying up vineyards, including the company’s first U.S. venture outside of California, in Oregon’s up-and-coming Willamette Valley. She’s also going after millennials. Jackson Family Wines is one of the biggest sellers of premium wines in the U.S., and among the top family-owned wineries in the country.

4 Stephanie Soechtig

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 20: Filmmaker poses for a portrait during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival at the Getty Images Portrait Studio at the Village At The Lift on January 20, 2014 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

President, Director, Producer, Atlas Films

Soechtig tackled the bottled water industry in the documentary Tapped before turning her attention to sugar in Fed Up. (Katie Couric, one of the film’s producers and its narrator, approached her with the idea.) Many have likened the movie to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth for the way we eat; it spotlights our addiction to sugar and the ensuing obesity epidemic, and succeeds in bringing the issue into the mainstream. The film is in part a call to action, encouraging people to take the “Fed Up Challenge” and go sugar-free for 10 days. So far more than 44,000 people have joined.

5 Judy Chan

CEO, Grace Vineyard

As China’s interest in wine explodes, the world is watching Judy Chan. Twelve years ago after a stint in human resources at Goldman Sachs, Chan, at age 24, took charge of the winery her father co-founded. “I didn’t even drink,” she says. The market was dominated by massive state-owned wineries, but Chan focused on smaller quantities of quality wine and today produces more than two million bottles a year. She launched a restaurant at the winery in Shanxi and is venturing into sparkling wine and whiskey.

6 Liz Myslik

Liz Myslik, CEO of Fresca Brands, poses for a photo in Lousiville, Colo., Friday, July 11, 2014. (Photo by Jack Dempsey for Fresca Foods)

EVP, Brand Management, Fresca Foods Inc.; CEO, Fresca Brands

Fresca Foods partners with natural food brands (think Justin’s Nut Butter and Plum Organics) to help them grow by handling the manufacturing and supply chain side of their businesses. Myslik oversees marketing, sales, corporate development, and an R&D team that came up with more than 50 new products last year. She’s also in charge of Fresca Brands, which is focused on creating new brands in house for Fresca Foods. The division’s first, Snack Out Loud, hit shelves in late 2013. She has plans for her team to roll out a new product every year.

7 Margo Wootan

Director of Nutrition Policy, Center for Science in the Public Interest

If America now knows that a Wendy’s Baconator has 940 calories, Wootan can take some of the credit. She’s pushed for laws requiring fast-food restaurants and other chains to reveal calories, and to get trans-fats listed on packaged foods. She helped spearhead the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which sets guidelines on food sold at schools outside of mealtimes, and she’s made real inroads into reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids.

8 Nancy Silverton

Co-owner, Mozza Empire

Silverton changed the way Americans think about bread when in 1989 in Los Angeles she founded La Brea Bakery, which now has outposts around the country. Today she runs the mozzarella bar at Osteria Mozza and, with partner Mario Batali, masterminds three Pizzeria Mozzas in California and one in Singapore. She’s also one of the visionaries behind the meat-centric Chi Spacca. L.A. has become one of America’s top food cities, thanks in large part to Silverton’s talent. When she won Outstanding Chef at the James Beard Foundation Awards in May, it was the first time since 1998 that one of the city’s own had taken the honor.

9 Kellee James

Founder and CEO, Mercaris

Thanks to her online trading platform, James is creating a more transparent and efficient market for organic commodities. That should ultimately bring down prices for consumers. The model also allows her to collect detailed industry data, which she then sells to subscribers. After launching just under a year ago with some $750,000 in seed funding, customers already include big names like Whole Foods and Organic Valley. Expect her company's trajectory to mirror the double-digit growth of the organic industry, and to go international sooner rather than later.

10 Christina Tosi

Chef, Owner, Founder, Milk Bar

The masses may have Momofuku mania, but the restaurant group’s dessert branch is a phenomenon in its own right. Tosi created the dessert program at Momofuku before starting the Milk Bar offshoot in 2008. This month she’ll have seven locations when she opens in SoHo. Tosi has helped make dessert a meal’s main event with creations like cereal milk soft serve and crack pie. “All the savory courses that came before dessert already have you in last place, literally,” she says, “so you have to fight for the best bite in a meal.” She’s known for her unique flavor combinations. One that didn’t work out? American cheese cake or pie with a saltine cracker crust and green tomato sorbet.

11 Margaret Wittenberg

Global Vice President of Quality Standards, Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods was already ahead of its time when Wittenberg joined the company in 1981--even then it banned artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Since then she’s driven the company’s aggressive quality campaign, which often makes the retailer a leader on issues like seafood sustainability and animal welfare standards. The company requires its suppliers to list all ingredients in cleaning products, even though the U.S. government doesn’t, and is insisting all of its vendors label products that include GMOs by 2018. “Whole Foods is just kind of a beacon of what’s to come,” she told Fortune earlier this year.

12 Healthy Lunch Heroes

Kirsten Saenz Tobey and Kristin Groos Richmond

Co-founders, Revolution Foods

Richmond and Tobey are tackling poor nutrition and health by taking on school lunches. Revolution Foods started out in 2006 serving healthy meals to five schools in Oakland; today the company serves about 1.5 million a week to more than 1,000 schools in 11 states. Last year they launched ready-to-eat Meal Kits, which are now sold in more than 2,000 stores, with two new flavors about to hit the shelves. Over the summer Steve Case’s Revolution Growth fund (no relation) invested a reported $30 million in the business, which is projecting more than $100 million in revenue for its current fiscal year.

Debra Eschmeyer

Co-founder and VP of External Affairs, FoodCorps

Part of the AmeriCorps network, FoodCorps places teams in low-income schools to confront issues like childhood obesity by improving school lunches, planting gardens, and teaching kids about nutrition. Eschmeyer knows firsthand the power of having a more direct connection with the food we eat--she grew up on a farm in rural Ohio and now owns her own with her husband just down the road. FoodCorps, which has placed team members in 400 schools in 16 states in its third year, has won praise from the likes of Mark Bittman.

13 Avani Davda

CEO, Tata Starbucks

Coffee is on the rise in India, historically a tea-drinking nation, and Starbucks is looking to profit with its partner Tata Global Beverages. The joint venture is led by Davda, who, in less than two years, has opened 52 stores across Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Bangalore, and Chennai. Next up is Hyderabad. She’s balanced Starbucks staples like Frappuccinos with local offerings. Her team launched an India-sourced and roasted coffee, called India Estates Blend, to mark Starbucks’ first anniversary in the country.

14 Laura Alber

Laura Alber, president and chief executive officer of Williams-Sonoma Inc., joined the board of Fitbit.

CEO and President, Williams-Sonoma

Williams-Sonoma is the envy of the retailing world when it comes to e-commerce; last year it made an astonishing 44% of its $4.4 billion in revenue from online sales. With nearly two decades at the company--her last four as CEO--Alber has prioritized data and analytics without turning her back on good old fashioned merchandising. She’s made a push for exclusive products, such as the Agrarian line that includes canning and cheese-making tools to appeal to DIYers. She also added to the company’s portfolio of brands with the launch of Mark and Graham, which specializes in monogrammed gifts, after seeing the success of customization at Williams-Sonoma unit Pottery Barn Kids.

15 Kim Jordan

Kim Jordan photographed at New Belgium Brewing Co.

Co-founder and CEO, New Belgium Brewing

As the CEO of the third-largest craft brewer in the U.S., Jordan is at the forefront of a beer movement that has swept the nation. Since launching in 1991 with about $150,000 in revenue that first year, she's grown the company into a $190 million operation. But Jordan has shown she’s in it for more than the beer--although her brewery makes some wildly popular ones like Fat Tire. As a B-Corporation, New Belgium is dedicated to being socially and environmentally responsible. The company is 100% employee owned and donates $1 to non-profits for every barrel it produces. Its brewery in Fort Collins, Colo., touts the state’s largest private solar array, and the company is rehabilitating a brownfield site for a new facility in Asheville, N.C.

16 Kylie Kwong

Kylie Kwong

Restaurateur, Billy Kwong

Kwong is a chef superstar, with a TV and cookbook empire anchored by her award-winning Sydney restaurant, Billy Kwong. The restaurant in part reflects her Chinese heritage, but all of her ventures reveal her wholehearted commitment to Australian native ingredients, including alternative proteins like insects. She got over her fear of bugs in order to work with an entomologist to raise mealworms, ants, and crickets as a low-cost, environmentally sound protein source. She now serves them on her menu.

17 Karla Chambers

Co-owner, Stahlbush Island Farms

More than 10 years after buying Stahlbush with her husband in 1985, Chambers co-founded one of America’s first individually quick-frozen companies focusing on sustainably grown produce--the freezing technique helps maintain flavor and nutrients. On her watch the farm has had a litany of other firsts: the first-ever farm certified sustainable by the Food Alliance, the first bio-gas plant of its kind in North America (it turns leftovers from the agricultural process, like corn husks, into energy), the first biodegradable bag in the freezer section. Now she and her team are focused on solving for a labor shortage in agriculture through technology, including GPS-guided tractors, and new farming techniques. Fun fact: she was on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco for 20 years.

18 Television Talents

Giada De Laurentiis

TV Host/Author/Chef

De Laurentiis has empowered women (and men, too) with her accessible Italian cooking. The Cordon Bleu-trained chef went big when she recently opened her first restaurant, Giada--a  nearly 300-seat eatery in Las Vegas with a view of the Bellagio fountains. It’s a fittingly ambitious step in an already overachieving career filled with Emmy award-winning Food Network shows, regular appearances on the Today Show, seven best-selling cookbooks, and a series of children’s books.  

Rachael Ray

TV Host, Author, Philanthropist 

Famous for catchphrases like “yum-o,” the TV personality and editorial director of her self-titled magazine is also a philanthropist: She has raised more than $10 million for kids’-health and shelter-animal charities (a portion of her Nutrish pet food line, for example, goes to organizations like the ASPCA). Next up: a huge Italian cookbook--her 22nd--due out in 2015.

19 Gina Gallo

Winemaker, E.&J. Gallo Winery

Gallo is now the biggest wine company in the world (Forbes estimates its revenue at $3.6 billion), yet it has a reputation for class as well as mass. That is in large part due to Gina Gallo, granddaughter of company founder Julio Gallo and winemaker for the high-end Gallo Signature Series. The grapes, grown by her brother, come from the family’s premier vineyards. She started working at the winery during high school and joined the sales department after college before getting into the production side of the business.

20 Annette Alvarez-Peters

Assistant General Merchandise Manager - Beverage Alcohol, Costco

Alvarez-Peters and her team of 11 U.S. buyers have helped build wine, beer, and spirits at Costco into a $3 billion business for the warehouse club. The formula? A constantly rotating limited assortment of product that creates a treasure hunt experience for shoppers. Alvarez-Peters also has been instrumental in growing the category’s private label since she took on the job in 2005. Most distributors tell Costco that the company is their largest customer, and its massive scale means other retailers have to look to the retailing giant to set pricing.

21 Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian

Co-founders, Edible Communities

Ryder and Topalian’s credo: If you want to eat local, it helps to read local. The two co-founded Edible magazine, now with about 80 regional editions around the U.S. and Canada, from Hawaii to Toronto. They are adding about 10 more every year through a licensing model. They were really the first publishing company, and are now the largest, to make the hyper-local food movement their focus. To keep the discussion going, Ryder and Topalian launched the Edible Institute, an annual two-day forum about the present and future state of local food.

22 Savvy Investors

Joanne Wilson (L) Kat Taylor (R)

Kat Taylor

Eagle Cliff Partners

Taylor is best known as CEO and co-founder of Beneficial State Bank, which invests profits back into the low-income communities it serves and lends to clients like processors and distributors of sustainable foods. Through venture capital firm Eagle Cliff, she also backs healthy food companies like Hampton Creek, which is indexing the world’s plants to try to make products that are better for our bodies and the planet. Its first, Just Mayo, has widespread distribution in retailers like Whole Foods and, soon, Wal-Mart.  

Joanne Wilson

Gotham Gal Ventures

Wilson is an eagle-eyed investor in tech start-ups like Curbed Network (home to Eater), Kellee James’s Mercaris (see No. 9), and online food community Food52. She is a strong backer of women-led enterprises and sits on the board of Hot Bread Kitchen, a nonprofit that promotes and trains female and minority bakers. She also co-founded the annual Women Entrepreneurs Festival.

23 Severine von Tscharner Fleming

Director, Greenhorns

Von Tscharner Fleming took time off during college to apprentice with farms around the world. She came back with a mission: develop tools to support young farmers, who can counter big agriculture. She’s started a laundry list of groups to do just that, including the National Young Farmers Coalition, the Agrarian Trust, and open-source platform Farm Hack. Von Tscharner Fleming, who has described herself as a “punky grassroots farming ninja,” is best known for Greenhorns, an organization that produces podcasts, blogs, networking events, and even a documentary to bolster the next generation of farmers.

24 Ruth Oniang’o

Founder, Rural Outreach Africa

Oniang’o has raised money to help 30,000 small farmers in Kenya, most of whom are women. She’s spent her career devoted to this cause, promoting better farming techniques and nutrition. She was once a member of the Kenyan parliament and a professor of food science in Kenya; today she’s an adjunct professor at Tufts. She’s advised countless international organizations, including the Gates Foundation, and in February she joined DuPont’s advisory committee on agricultural innovation and productivity.  

25 Lena Kwak

President and Co-founder, Cup4Cup

The gluten-free food and beverage industry hit $10.5 billion last year, according to Mintel, and it’s expected to grow another 48% to $15.6 billion by 2016. Entrepreneurs like Kwak are capitalizing on the movement. She developed Cup4Cup flour while heading up R&D at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry after seeing how much diners appreciated good gluten-free bread. She’s gone on to develop pizza crust, brownie, and pancake mixes under the brand. She’s now expanding her Wholesome line, a substitute for whole wheat flour that launched in May, with Wholesome vanilla cake and corn bread mixes hitting shelves this fall.  

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