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Denise Leathers

Our FoRWARD Awards will celebrate the achievements of some pretty cool ladies.

While looking for a stock photo to use in a house ad announcing our new FoRWARD Awards (Frozen & Refrigerated Women Achieving Remarkable Distinction), I typed in the word “female executive.” The search returned literally hundreds of shots…of beautiful young women in their 20s and 30s who bear little resemblance to the industry leaders I know. Of course, when I typed in “male executive,” there were plenty of distinguished-looking older gents proudly sporting gray hair (or no hair), wrinkles and a few extra pounds — a much more accurate representation of a successful businessman.


As a woman of a certain age, I found the whole exercise depressing. In fact, it reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with the female founder of a gluten-free frozen food company who was mistaken for the mother of her (male) sales rep by a customer at a trade show. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, she said she often felt invisible, and now I understand why. Even in 2022, people still sometimes find it difficult to imagine that a female — especially one over age 40 — could build and lead a successful company.

But that only reinforces just how important it is to shine a spotlight on women in our industry who have achieved “remarkable distinction.” And believe me, they’re everywhere. Over the years, I’ve spoken to dozens of female retailers, manufacturers, brokers and logistics providers at the top of their fields. No doubt, our biggest challenge will be narrowing down the list of candidates to a manageable number.

Aside from the fact that it’s high time we recognize the accomplishments of women in our industry, there’s another reason we want to honor them. If you’ve looked around a National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods (NFRA) or American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) show recently, you’ve seen for yourself just how few women are in attendance. But since women still do the majority of grocery shopping in America, it’s important for retailers and manufacturers to have them on the team — or, better yet, leading the team. (One study found that companies with female executives are 30% more likely to outperform other companies. Just sayin’.) But in order to attract more women to the industry, they need to be able to see a future for themselves. They need to see what’s possible. That’s where we come in.

Denise Leathers
Denise Leathers

To help kick off the competition, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer is partnering with AFFI to recognize a female member of the organization who’s made a significant contribution to the frozen food industry. We’ll be at AFFI’s Leadership Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., Oct. 2 to 4, to help present the inaugural award, and the winner will be profiled along with the rest of the FoRWARD honorees in our January-February 2023 issue.


If you would like to nominate someone for a FoRWARD award, shoot me an e-mail explaining in 200 words or less how she’s contributed to her company and why you think she’s deserving of the honor. We can’t wait to hear about the great things women are doing to move our industry FoRWARD!

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the Editorial Director for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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