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Denise Leathers

To borrow a phrase from Queen Bey herself, ‘We’re repping for the girls who taking over the world.’

As we put the final touches on an issue six months in the making, Beyoncé’s anthem to female empowerment “Run the World (Girls)” is playing in my head. My favorite line: “How we smart enough to make these millions, strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business?” 


The 28 winners of our first annual FoRWARD Award (and probably Beyoncé, too) will tell you it takes hard work — and perseverance — to do it all, especially in an industry where men still fill the majority of leadership positions. But the inaugural class of Frozen & Refrigerated Women Achieving Remarkable Distinction is getting it done — and then some!

The diverse group includes company founders, CEOs, presidents and a host of other senior leaders (plus two PhDs!). But to a woman, they’re making a difference in their organizations, in the industry and in their communities. And every single one of them emphasized the importance of having women on the leadership team, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s the smart thing to do. Sure, women bring a much-needed perspective to decision-making, but at least one study revealed that female-led companies are more successful financially than those headed by men. Just sayin…

The good news is that the industry is starting to catch on. Honoree Elaine Thompson, a long-time food broker, notes that when she started her career 45 years ago, most women in the industry were secretaries or sales clerks. Today, women are running companies. And it gets better every day. Just since our list of winners was finalized, Hy-Vee named longtime executive Donna Tweeten its first female president, KeHE Distributors tapped Deb Conklin as its new president and CEO, and Impossible Foods welcomed two women to the c-suite: chief marketing and creative officer Leslie Sims and chief demand officer Sherene Jagla. It’s also worth noting that three of the most influential trade associations serving our industry — the American Frozen Food Institute, the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association and the Private Label Manufacturers Association — are or will be headed by women.

That said, a look around the room at any industry conference, where men typically outnumber women by at least two-to-one, confirms there’s still work to be done. Gail Becker, founder of the Caulipower brand, put it best: “I am hopeful that one day we won’t even need special recognition for women in business because we will be equally represented and compensated.”

But until then, she continues, “It’s our job to band together and celebrate each other’s successes.” Amen, Gail!

Denise Leathers
Denise Leathers


After the success of last year’s Young Guns piece honoring 20- and 30-somethings, we’ve decided to do it again! If you know an under-40-year-old who’s doing great things in the frozen and refrigerated world, give us a shout. We’re also seeking nominations for our 2023 Retailer of the Year, which will be announced in our May issue.

Until then, I look forward to seeing you all soon at AFFI-CON, Expo West and the NFRA Leadership Conference!

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the Editorial Director for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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