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FoRWARD

Meet the new class of Frozen & Refrigerated Women Achieving Remarkable Distinction! The 24 recipients of our second annual FoRWARD Awards are doing great things for their companies, their communities and our industry.

The winners of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer’s 2024 FoRWARD Awards are a diverse group representing retailers, manufacturers, brokers and suppliers from every corner of the industry. They range from category managers and division directors to company founders, presidents and CEOs. But they do have a few things in common: they all worked hard to get to where they are, often while balancing the needs of their families; they aren’t afraid to take chances and go after what they want; and they continue to challenge themselves every day, always looking for new opportunities to learn and grow. To a woman, they also recognize the value of a good mentor, and they’re committed to helping the next generation of female execs work their way to the top as well.

Read on to learn more about their achievements, why they think women make great leaders, and their advice for other women hoping to succeed in the frozen and refrigerated food business.

Donna Tweeten

DONNA TWEETEN

PRESIDENT, HY-VEE, INC.

After more than 30 years in retail, Tweeten was promoted to president of Hy-Vee in 2022, becoming the first woman in the company’s 94-year history to hold that position. “We’ve come a long way,” says Tweeten, who calls her involvement in the company’s transformation from regional grocer to nationally recognized retail brand the highlight of her career.

But Tweeten is also proud of Hy-Vee’s commitment to easing food insecurity, which is reflected in the company’s 100 Million Meals Challenge in partnership with Feeding America, as well as its One Step program, which funds packaged meals used to feed communities around the world. “As a grocer, we are uniquely positioned to help support this need in the communities that we serve and to unite our customers, employees and supplier partners around this cause to make an even greater difference,” she says. Tweeten is also a big advocate for female leaders that bring a unique — and much needed — perspective to the decision-making process. “We have an important voice, and we can’t be afraid to use it to share our opinions and advocate on behalf of our customers and our brand,” she says. “Don’t let detractors get in your way,” she adds. “Because you can, indeed, have it all.”

LOREN BRILL CASTLE

FOUNDER & CEO, SWEET LOREN’S

Loren Brill Castle

As founder of the No. 1 refrigerated cookie dough brand in the natural channel — No. 3 in conventional — Brill Castle continues to rack up the honors. She was named one of Inc.’s Female Founders 100 and one of Marie Claire’s Top Entrepreneurs, and Sweet Loren’s has been listed among Inc. 5000’s fastest growing private companies for the past five years. Topping it all off, Brill Castle was recently featured on the TODAY Show in a “She Made It” segment that detailed her journey from cancer survivor to successful entrepreneur. But the road hasn’t always been smooth.

“When I entered the food industry, I didn’t know anyone,” says Brill Castle. And some of the people she met early on were less than supportive. “I was told it was ‘cute’ that I had a cookie dough company,” she recalls. “But I chose to ignore comments that weren’t positive, and anything negative became fuel to prove them wrong” — good advice for any woman trying to make her dream come true, she says.

Distributed at more than 25,000 stores nationwide, Sweet Loren’s is the fastest-growing brand in the cookie dough category. However, Brill Castle is equally proud of the company’s partnership with Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Next month, she reports, Sweet Loren’s will debut a new, limited-edition cookie dough variety and donate 10% for every package sold, up to $10,000. “As a cancer survivor myself, it’s truly personal,” says Brill Castle, who knows firsthand the importance of developing new cures and improved treatment options.

‘I chose to ignore comments that weren’t positive, and anything negative became fuel to prove them wrong.’ – Loren Brill Castle

Since more than 80% of supermarket shoppers are women, the industry needs female leaders who understand and empathize with their customers, says Brill Castle, who believes women in the CPG space have a lot more power than they sometimes realize. Her best advice for aspiring female executives? “Know your self-worth and fight to be seen. Whether compensation, title or position, it’s important to get what you deserve.”

Kristen Thompson

KRISTEN THOMPSON

SENIOR VP B&G FOODS/PRESIDENT, FROZEN & VEGETABLES DIVISION

Thompson has taken on increasingly challenging roles since entering the food space more than 20 years ago as a category retail merchandiser at Montvale, N.J.-based ESM Ferolie (now CA Ferolie). “I have worked in many segments within the CPG industry, giving me a unique perspective on all aspects of the business, including sales, customers, consumers, and manufacturing,” she says. “But I am most proud of what I am doing now. This role is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my professional life.”

An NFRA advisory director, Thompson believes in paying it forward. “I am very passionate about helping young people get started in their food/CPG careers,” she says. “I work very closely with our team on our internship program and personally mentor local high school students in business programs in northern New Jersey.” She adds, “When you find someone just out of college or grad school with a passion for something, being able to help mentor, guide, and develop them is not only personally satisfying but much needed in our industry.”

What advice does she have for those looking to advance their careers? “Be yourself,” says Thompson. “Leverage your strengths and own your weaknesses. No one is perfect, and there is a certain level of trust that comes with being humble and honest. It’s important for people to feel comfortable for them to be their best.” She adds, “A sense of humor never hurts either!”

Kellie Shetlar

KELLIE SHETLAR

VP OF SALES, CONAGRA BRANDS

As the leader of Conagra’s frozen and refrigerated team serving Walmart and a three-time NFRA board member, Shetlar knows something about operating successfully in high-profile roles. She’s also mindful of what it took for her to get here. “I’m passionate about fostering mentoring relationships as I’ve recognized how they helped me achieve my goals,” she says.

Shetlar encourages individuals starting out in the business to make professional connections inside and outside the industry to broaden their perspectives. Bringing a diversity of opinions to the table results in “more innovative and well-rounded decision-making,” she explains.

On a personal note, Shetlar suggests newcomers focused on building their careers enjoy the journey. “It’s so easy to focus on how fast you can move up that sometimes you miss the unexpected joy” that can be found along the way.

One such delight for Shetlar involved meeting P.F. Chang’s co-founder Philip Chiang after Conagra acquired the brand’s licensing rights. “To this day, I smile every time I see a consumer buy our products from the frozen aisle, and my son’s favorite is our P.F. Chang’s Honey Chicken,” she says.

Chloe Epstein

CHLOE EPSTEIN

CO-FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, CHLOE’S

“The inspiration behind Chloe’s originated from a desire to provide my children — and children everywhere — with simple, clean, delicious foods,” says Epstein, who was an assistant district attorney in Manhattan before starting her namesake company. “The dream was to make Chloe’s pops available in schools and camps so kids would learn at a young age that better-for-you treats exist, are accessible and, most importantly, taste delicious.” Fortunately, continues Epstein, that dream came true relatively quickly.

“Having my kids tell me that they and their friends devoured a Chloe’s pop at camp instead of the alternative artificial option gave me the greatest sense of satisfaction,” she recalls. However, Epstein and company didn’t stop there. In fact, Chloe’s pops are now available at thousands of supermarkets nationwide. “But we were always focused on getting our treats into underserved communities, and we are working to expand that involvement,” says Epstein.

Although the company collaborates with partners on a variety of kid-focused events, Chloe’s is especially committed to camps that provide under-resourced children with invaluable summer experiences as well as camps that serve children with cancer, she explains.

“I want to continue to build on those relationships and bring our treats and the mission behind them to as many kids as we can.”

Epstein also recognizes the importance of diverse leadership teams that include women. “We created Chloe’s to solve a need for me and my family,” she explains. “So, in many ways, I, as a woman and mother, am our core consumer. That made my role integral, unique and extraordinarily valuable in terms of relationship-building with partners, investors and, of course, consumers. So if you’re ever feeling intimidated about being in the minority, remember your value and what you as an individual have to add.”

Shannon Sherrard

SHANNON SHERRARD

VP OF SALES, GRAETER’S ICE CREAM

During her 17 years in the frozen and refrigerated food business, Sherrard has worn many hats. Her duties have run the gamut from knocking on the doors of natural food stores and resetting shelves at all hours of the day and night to evaluating inventory with distributors and developing manufacturers for national brands. “These varied experiences brought me to where I am today, leading a sales team for Graeter’s Ice Cream. But they have also given me perspective on what our partners and collaborators may be dealing with while managing their work,” she says. Understanding their needs helps make her a better teammate, says Sherrard, who believes there’s something to be gained from every experience — even if it’s not apparent at the time.

A member of the NFRA Board of Directors, Sherrard is most proud of the internal development work she’s been privileged to do at Graeter’s. That includes her involvement with the company’s League of Women, a personal and professional development group that meets monthly to explore a range of topics from the female perspective. One area she’s particularly interested in is maintaining a healthy work-life balance, which is often a challenge for working moms. “But if we don’t have a balance between work and play, we limit our ability to shine,” says Sherrard.

Her other advice for women in the industry is to know exactly what you want and then ask for it. “Rarely does anyone — except maybe a mom — know intuitively what you need and then offer it to you,” says Sherrard. And if asking doesn’t get the answer you want, try to understand why. “A ‘no’ isn’t always personal, and a few ‘nos’ make each yes more rewarding,” she says.

Kasey Sheffer

KASEY SHEFFER

VP OF OWN BRANDS, GIANT EAGLE

Sheffer joined Giant Eagle in 2021 after 11 years with Ahold Delhaize USA where she led the effort to define the company’s private brands portfolio during the 2018 merger of Ahold USA and Delhaize America. That same year, Sheffer was named one of the Top Women in Store Brands by Women Impacting Storebrand Excellence (WISE). An in-demand speaker, she’s garnered a few other honors since then, but that’s not what brings Sheffer the most satisfaction.

“Earlier in my career, I would happily rattle off promotions or special projects I was asked to participate in or recognitions I received as my greatest sources of pride,” she says. But over the past few years, her perspective has shifted. “Now I feel much more accomplished when relishing in the achievements of my team. Recognizing talent in others and helping to create a path where those talents can flourish is the best demonstration of my growth as a leader.”

A firm believer that “if you can see it, you can be it,” Sheffer also strives to be a role model for other women in the industry — women who provide what she believes is an invaluable perspective. “My hope is that women become confident in their voice, advocating for a growth path that mirrors their ambition.”

Outside of work, Sheffer serves on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance. And she’s volunteered with Junior Achievement since 2010, giving her the opportunity to support the local school system and also spend time in the classroom with her two children.

JESSICA MOORE

DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT, HUSSMANN CORP.

Jessica Moore

Moore has worked at Hussmann for 20 years, and she’s served on the NFRA’s Frozen Food Council for 15 of them. Also a member of the association’s Supply Chain Committee, she was inducted into the Honorable Order of Golden Penguins in 2019. “I’m very proud of my engagement with and participation in the NFRA,” she says. “It’s allowed me to build a network and better partner with members of the frozen and refrigerated foods community to help lift the industry as a whole.”

When Moore started her career, she was often one of the only women in the room. While working her way up the ladder, she sought out other female business leaders as mentors and examples. So she knows how important it is for women like herself who’ve achieved some success in the industry “to act as a bridge for those who come after you.” But for many years, Moore’s work with future business leaders — male and female — started long before they entered the frozen and refrigerated food industry.

‘[Success] is best achieved when our workforce is representative of the retailers and consumers we serve.’ — Jessica Moore

“As a high school student, I participated in Junior Achievement each year, which really helped foster my interest in business,” she explains. Once Moore learned that Hussmann sponsored multiple JA companies, “I was proud to act as a mentor for a student-run company every year (until COVID ended the program).” Nowadays, she supports the next generation of business leaders through mentoring opportunities with Hussmann’s internship and sales development programs.

Why is it so important to have women in leadership positions?

“As Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, ‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception,’” says Moore. “Representation matters,” she continues. For companies to succeed, their focus needs to be aligned with that of their customers. “And that is best achieved when our workforce is representative of the retailers and consumers we serve.”

Sherry Martin

SHERRY MARTIN

CO-FOUNDER & CEO, TUCSON FOODS

As co-founder and CEO of Tucson Foods, Martin along with husband Todd led the transformation of what was once a modest handmade tamale shop into the No. 1 brand of frozen tamales in the natural channel. Tucson Tamales are distributed at more than 6,000 stores nationwide, and the company employs 50 people at two manufacturing facilities. But Martin is most proud of the company culture she helped create that emphasizes diversity, inclusivity and respect for all ethnicities.

“Although Tucson Foods is rooted in Latin culinary traditions, the people that make up our organization come from many different countries and, collectively, speak six to eight different languages,” she explains. “In fact, a significant number of our plant supervisors came to us through the International Rescue Committee program,” showcasing the company’s commitment to empowering vulnerable individuals.

As a Mexican-American woman in a position of leadership, Martin is keenly aware of her influence and feels a responsibility to support aspiring businesspeople in her community. She’s an active member of the Latino Business Action Network and also mentors local entrepreneurs. Outside the business world, however, Martin volunteers and fundraises for organizations that support research and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and autism — two diseases that have impacted her family.

Martin believes that female business leaders offer a unique and invaluable perspective and encourages aspiring executives to “stand tall and proud in their own sunlight.”

ALISON BODOR

PRESIDENT & CEO, AMERICAN FROZEN FOOD INSTITUTE (AFFI)

Alison Bodor

Since taking the helm at AFFI in 2016, Bodor has become a passionate advocate for frozen food. But her personal relationship with the category started long before her professional one.

“As a working mom, I remember how hard it was to come home from a long day at the office and get dinner on the table,” she says. “I love to cook, but it wasn’t realistic to create a meal from scratch on most weeknights when my kids had a myriad of activities. So I often turned to frozen food even before I worked for AFFI.” She adds that responsibility for meal preparation still falls primarily on women, “And I feel strongly that they need options to help them balance the needs of their families with their own needs.”

Bodor says she’s privileged to work with a tremendously talented staff on some of the frozen food industry’s most pressing issues. Her advice to other women in the industry is find something they love to do as well. “And then stretch yourself by seeking out new projects, engagements, work relationships and responsibilities.” She adds, “Especially early in your career, I encourage women to ‘say yes’ to new opportunities and experiences.”

Patricia Herrick

PATRICIA “PATTI” HERRICK

DIRECTOR-METRO DIVISION, JOH

With over 35 years of industry experience, including senior leadership positions at Coca-Cola, Nabisco and now JOH’s Metro New York/New Jersey division, Herrick knows a thing or two about the role growing sales and share for your company and customers plays in achieving personal and professional goals. But that’s just one of the keys to her success.

Herrick is known for her knowledge, passion, and work ethic in developing and executing multi-year strategic business plans. She believes that like-minded women are integral to the success of companies operating in the grocery retail and CPG space. “Women are recognized for their effective leadership, which results in increased productivity, improved collaboration, and heightened dedication in the workplace,” she says. “The inclusion of women in leadership fosters a diverse environment, bringing forth new ideas and greater creativity. This, in turn, enables companies to generate original and fresh solutions, creating a win-win situation for all.”

‘The inclusion of women in leadership fosters a diverse environment, bringing forth new ideas and greater creativity.’ — Patricia “Patti” Herrick

An active participant in the metro New York/New Jersey chapter of NextUp (formerly the Network of Executive Women, Herrick is committed to advancing the next generation of female leaders. She advises young women “to seek mentors within or outside their organizations, express passion, and assert their voices.”

Debbie Curdy

DEBBIE CURDY

VP OF MARKETING & INNOVATION, INNOVASIAN CUISINE

Curdy joined InnovAsian almost 11 years ago, assuming the role of marketing vp in 2018. But ask any of the multiple colleagues who nominated her for the FoRWARD Award and they’ll tell you she’s so much more than that.

“Her passion for the industry, our company and our people is unparalleled,” says one. “Great ideas, amazing marketing campaigns, positive mindset, huge heart, and always ready for a challenge. That’s Debbie.”

“Not only is Debbie an innovative marketer with proven results, she’s also the ultimate team player,” adds another, citing Curdy’s creation of a “one-team culture” that eliminates departmental silos. Not only that, but the woman knows her stuff. “I can’t say enough about Debbie’s knowledge of our products, processes and industry. She is a key contributor, whether in the boardroom or in front of customers.”

‘It is important for all young people to see someone who looks like them in leadership positions.’ — Debbie Curdy

It’s for that reason, says another colleague, that “Ask Debbie,” “Did you ask Debbie?” and (in a crisis) “Where’s Debbie?!” are all common phrases at InnovAsian where Curdy is described as the glue that holds the team together. “Oh, and she get’s sh*t done.”

All of that hard work has helped propel InnovAsian into the No. 1 frozen Asian food brand in the country, an achievement that fills Curdy with pride. “It has truly been a team effort and I’m fortunate to work alongside some incredibly talented individuals,” she says.

When she isn’t wearing her marketing hat, “Debbie is passionate about leading our community outreach programs and partnering with charitable organizations, which — thanks to her — has become a major corporate objective,” says a colleague.

Curdy is also committed to elevating women in the workplace. “I think it is important for all young people to see someone that looks like them in leadership positions,” she says. “And
as a working mom, it is also very important to me to see moms in leadership positions. I feel incredibly fortunate to work for a company and with a leadership team that respects and supports that.”

Jennifer Johnston

JENNIFER JOHNSTON

SENIOR MANAGER OF CATEGORY STRATEGY-FROZEN BREAKFAST, KELLANOVA

After working on various center store categories, Johnston moved into the frozen food space two years ago. “Not only has her data-driven and research-focused approach resulted in key category and brand wins — with Eggo continuing to grow points of distribution and major grocers improving shelving flow — Jen is also extremely passionate about people and community,” wrote the colleague who nominated her. So it comes as no surprise that Johnston cites the strong cross-functional relationships she’s built with stakeholders across all levels of the organization as her greatest professional achievement.

An avid supporter of the American Heart Association, Johnston is also a proud member of Kellanova’s WoK (Women of Kellogg) Business Employee Resource Group as well as NextUP, an organization committed to helping women advance in business. At a NextUP event last fall, she was inspired by guest speaker Fran Hauser, author of “The Myth of the Nice Girl.”

“She reinforced my belief that strong women who lead with empathy, kindness and gratitude can elevate to and find success in leadership positions,” says Johnston. In fact, “We need more female leaders like that to shift the mindset of what it takes to be in those positions.” Her advice to women eyeing leadership roles: “Stay true to your values and authenticity in order to develop your professional ‘superpower,’ and support those around you who embody those traits as well.

TRICIA GREYSHOCK

PRESIDENT & CEO, NATIONAL FROZEN & REFRIGERATED FOODS ASSOCIATION (NFRA)

Tricia Greyshock

After more than four years with the association, Greyshock was appointed the NFRA’s first female president and CEO last month — an achievement she takes great pride in. “Our industry has evolved tremendously in recent years, and I look forward to working with a board of directors that is representative of the talent and passion required to drive frozen and refrigerated categories forward,” she says, citing the group’s growing diversity (including more women than ever).

A lifelong learner who’s always looking for ways to challenge herself and grow professionally, Greyshock tries to create similar opportunities for her 8-year-old daughter. For the past three years, she’s served as a volunteer community leader with Junior Achievement, which offers hands-on programming on financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. “It’s a great way to connect with students at a young age,” says Greyshock.

‘Never stop learning, never stop asking questions, and never stop meeting people! – Tricia Greyshock

For female leaders looking to advance their careers, “I can’t stress enough the importance of building and maintaining your professional network,” she says. “Find opportunities to connect with proven leaders in the industry and ask questions, take on an ad-hoc project in a different department, look for training that can connect you with peers, find your local chamber and attend mixers and networking events, and don’t be afraid to walk up to someone at a conference and do a cold introduction…. Never stop learning, never stop asking questions, and never stop meeting people!”

Heather Cooper

HEATHER COOPER

SENIOR VP OF RETAIL SALES, OATLY NORTH AMERICA

After more than 25 years in sales — the past seven of which have been in the refrigerated foods business — Cooper is still driven by “big wins.” And she’s at her best when solving complex business problems. But successfully leading a team is what gives her the most pride. “There is nothing more satisfying than helping people with great potential grow and develop and then go on to achieve great things,” she says.

A member of the NFRA’s board of advisors, Cooper says a speaker at one of the association’s events a few years ago helped open her eyes to the impact of employees’ mental health on the workplace. “It is estimated that mental illness affects more than one in five adults in the U.S., so chances are good that people we work with, people on our teams or the people in their families are struggling with something,” she says. “As leaders, we can impact people’s lives for better or worse. So I strive to give my team the space they need to complete their jobs as well as the flexibility to take the time they need to live their best, most healthy lives.”

Why do we need women in leadership positions? “Diversity of thought is critical, especially at higher levels where different perspectives when leading people and making business decisions are vital,” says Cooper.

KELLEY MARTIN

VP SALES NORTH AMERICA-FOODSERVICE, NORTERA

Kelley Martin

Recently named AFFI’s 2023 Woman of the Year, Martin spent 25 years at National Frozen Foods Corp. before moving to Nortera six years ago. But she took the lessons learned at the family-owned company with her when she left. “Suppliers, growers, customers and employees were all treated with respect — as if they were family, too,” says Martin. That attitude became one of her core values as well, leading to the creation of a collaborative, supportive, successful sales team at Nortera. An advocate of “strong mentor culture with feedback and recognition as key components,” Martin is also committed to developing and coaching team members “to push themselves outside their comfort zones.”

Outside of the company, Martin serves on the AFFI Board of Directors and AFFI Advocacy Leadership Program. “I am very passionate in my support for AFFI and its focus on educating consumers about the value of frozen foods…and the reduction of food waste,” she says.

Also a firm believer in the importance of diversity at every level, Martin has this advice for women looking to move up: “Be confident, strong, authentic and always true to who you are.” She adds, “Use your passion and your voice to be effective, to be heard and to elevate your team.”

Meghan Swan

MEGHAN SWAN

VP GLOBAL McDONALD’S, LATAM & INDIA, J.R. SIMPLOT

Swan has spent 15 years with Simplot, rising through the ranks to her current position where she manages the company’s global relationship with McDonald’s. But she’s most proud of her company’s performance during the global pandemic when it successfully managed extreme supply chain challenges and unprecedented impacts to operations. “Coming together as a team, supporting each other personally and professionally and working together to solve challenges for our customers…was an incredible feat and something I am very proud of,” she says.

Former chair and current member of the AFFI board of directors, Swan also takes part in several programs that encourage diversity in the food industry, including Simplot’s Global DEI Steering Committee and the Women’s Foodservice Forum. Since women make up half of the population, says Swan, they should be equally represented in business. “Women bring different perspectives and approaches to problem-solving that create tremendous value in leadership roles,” she adds.

Her advice to women hoping to move into those positions is to take more chances and go after opportunities that may seem like a stretch. “Have confidence in your abilities and look for ways to broaden your perspectives and experience,” says Swan. “And seek out mentors! We all need support in our journeys, so don’t hesitate to ask for it.”

‘Have confidence in your abilities and look for ways to broaden your perspectives and experience. And seek out mentors! We all need support in our journeys, so don’t hesitate to ask for it.’ — Meghan Swan

Shannon Gilreath

SHANNON GILREATH

SENIOR VP, CONSUMER BRANDS & E-COMMERCE, RICH PRODUCTS CORP.

Starting with a marketing internship during college, Gilreath has been with Rich Products Corp. for 20 years. In December 2022, she was promoted to her current position, becoming the first woman in company history to lead both sales and marketing for Rich’s Consumer Brands Division. The journey hasn’t always been easy, says Gilreath. “But pushing through and persevering is what fosters the most growth, builds confidence and develops your resilience.” So her advice to women in the industry is to “lean in,” and don’t let failure hold you back.

That’s a message Gilreath wants to share with others through mentorship and coaching, which she says offers leaders the biggest return on investment. “I was always self-conscious and often doubted myself early in my career,” she explains. “But now I’m in a position to help others be free of that negativity and to inspire hope and optimism.” As a working mom who knows firsthand the importance of work-life balance, she’s also committed to helping her team build successful careers while also parenting young children.

Gilreath serves on the boards of several charitable organizations and industry associations and is an NFRA Advisory Director. But she gets the most satisfaction faction from her work with the Rich Products Community of Coastal Georgia Foundation, which helps support families in Glynn County, Ga., where the Consumer Brands Division is based. Since the foundation’s inception eight years ago, says Gilreath, Rich’s has raised nearly $600,000 and partnered with 26 different organizations committed to improving the well-being of the community.

Blair Smittcamp-Martin

BLAIR SMITTCAMP-MARTIN

MARKETING & SPECIAL PROJECTS MANAGER, WAWONA FROZEN FOODS

Smittcamp-Martin was literally born to work in frozen foods. The marketing pro, whose family has owned and operated Wawona Frozen Foods since 1945, says there is “something truly special” about being able to celebrate the company’s accomplishments with her dad and two brothers. Her strong sense of family also extends to the Wawona community in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

“I am incredibly passionate about our community and all of the wonderful things our community does,” says Smittcamp-Martin, who currently serves on the board of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce. She’s also involved with the group’s Leadership Fresno program, which identifies and seeks to develop local leaders who come together annually to formulate and complete a project benefitting the community.

Smittcamp-Martin says businesses and communities need female leaders to step up. Women bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table, which can lead to more innovative and collaborative decision-making, she says. She also believes that “work-life balance is something women do incredibly well,” which translates into better decision-making, multi-tasking, and problem-solving abilities.

LINDA PHAN

SENIOR CATEGORY MANAGER-FROZEN, TOPCO

Linda Phan

After four years in dry grocery, Phan made the leap to frozen and refrigerated eight years ago. In her current position at Topco, she’s been empowered to drive growth in the segment by developing new product ideas and business solutions that support member needs. “That hands-on involvement during every step of the journey from concept to final execution in-store has been extremely satisfying,” she says. And she still gets a thrill every time she sees a product that she helped create on the shelf!

Phan’s work on the new Crav’n Flavor frozen pizza line- up earned her accolades in 2020 when she was named one of 45 Rising Stars in Private Label. “That brand has gone on to become one of the fastest-growing brands at Topco, and it’s been extended into other frozen and non-frozen categories as well,” she reports. “I’m extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to be part of that new brand launch and am deeply satisfied by how well it has resonated with our members’ shoppers.”

Phan says she’s been blessed to have had many great mentors during her career, so she feels it’s important to pay it forward by acting as a role model to younger colleagues. Her advice to other women in the industry is to chase their dreams. “No idea is too small or impossible, and your voice is meant to be shared with the world,” she says. And if your message doesn’t hit, well…Phan’s go-to anthem is Aaliyah’s “Try Again”: “…and if at first you don’t succeed, then dust it off and try again.”

Miranda Coughlin

MIRANDA COUGHLIN

DAIRY CATEGORY MANAGER, HARRIS TEETER

“Stay positive” is the message that Coughlin has for other women seeking to advance their careers. She points to challenges she faced as she transitioned into grocery after many years working in fashion merchandising.

“I’ve always had a passion for food and its sourcing, but the switch to the food industry seems daunting,” she says. “Through drive, persistence and positive thinking, I was able to get my foot in the door at Harris Teeter. I believe you can apply those strategies to many goals in life, and you’ll be amazed at the doors they can unlock.”

Coughlin’s interest in “nutritional education and accessibility to healthy foods” has served her well in her current position. “I’m passionate about helping our customers create healthy, affordable meal options,” she says. “I believe this is critical to preserve the health of current and future generations and to make sure healthy habits are built within a family.”

COLLEEN MORENO

DIRECTOR OF RETAIL SALES, S.A. PIAZZA

Colleen Moreno

Moreno is proof positive of the power of a good female mentor. “I owe so much to [2023 FoRWARD Award winner] Angela Rosenquist, who brought me from the hospitality industry into the frozen and refrigerated food world years ago (the NFRA Show happened during my first week on the job). We went on sales calls and to food shows across the country, and I watched and learned all about the frozen food business from her. It meant the world to me,” says Moreno, who tries to do the same for women at her company.

Moreno has been at S.A. Piazza for six years, and she takes great pride in the tremendous growth of the Wild Mike’s Ultimate Pizza brand during that time. “It’s very satisfying to work with our retailers from the start — and then seeing our product on the shelf and creating successful marketing promotions to make our brand successful,” she says. “Doing that as part of such a great team makes it even more gratifying.”

‘Don’t pass up opportunities to stretch yourself personally or professionally, and always strive for a healthy work-life balance.’ — Colleen Moreno

Outside the office, Moreno is on the board of directors of the Frozen & Refrigerated Food Council of Northern California. As a third generation breast cancer survivor, she’s also a big advocate of breast cancer awareness. And, of course, she loves to spread the good word about the many benefits of frozen food. Her advice to women looking to move up the ladder: “Don’t pass up opportunities to stretch yourself personally or professionally, and always strive for a healthy work-life balance.”

Kristin Goetz

KRISTIN GOETZ

CENTER STORE DIRECTOR (DAIRY, FROZEN, PET, BABY, HOUSEHOLD, HBC), NORTHEAST GROCERY SHARED SERVICES

Goetz got her start in grocery 27 years ago as a cashier and worked her way up through store operations and management to her present position supporting multiple food and non-food categories at Tops Friendly Markets and Price Chopper. In many respects, however, Goetz is a frozen and refrigerated newbie having assumed responsibility for those two departments last June. She also became an NFRA board member, filling a spot held by her predecessor at Northeast Grocery Shared Services.

Like many of her peers, Goetz takes pride in mentoring others to become the best version of themselves. She explains her approach as “challenging the status quo and encouraging others to step out of their comfort zones and look for ways to inspire and motivate others.” The reality, she says, is that “growth and comfort do not coexist.”

Goetz sees community service as a crucial element of successful retailing. “I am passionate about supporting Oishei Children’s Hospital which is an inspirational healthcare facility that offers the highest quality care to women and children in Western New York. I have personally volunteered in fundraising events that have contributed to the millions of dollars Tops has raised for the organization,” Goetz says.

LEEANN SMULLIGAN

VP OF OPERATIONS, MRS. T’S PIEROGIES

LeeAnn Smulligan

Smulligan began her career at Mrs. T’s 22 years ago as a marketing assistant and worked her way up to her current position. She’s particularly proud of the brand-building work she did in her previous role as director of marketing, where she also took a leadership role in the construction and implementation of the company’s trade spend and deduction management tool.

‘Take advantage of opportunities offered to you even when — especially when — they take you out of your comfort zone. That’s usually where you’ll find the most growth.’ — LeeAnn Smulligan

Outside of the office, Smulligan strives to be a role model for her two daughters. “I want them to know that they can excel in their careers and also prioritize family,” she says. Like her, “They need to find something they’re passionate about, work hard and be all in.”

Smulligan’s professional and personal interests come together in her work as secretary of the board of directors of the Helping Harvest Food Bank. “It is heartbreaking how many children only get a meal when they’re in school,” she says. “And the need only continues to grow. As members of the frozen food industry, it’s important for us to bring awareness to this problem and be part of the solution.”

Her advice to women looking to advance their careers in this business is to “take advantage of opportunities offered to you even when — especially when — they take you out of your comfort zone. That’s usually where you’ll find the most growth.”

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the Editorial Director for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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