The Changing Marketplace of the Food Industry

Here is a nice piece about the difficulty of being CEO of a food company.

Indeed, it's far from clear whether American consumers might not be even fatter in five years than they are right now, or whether they'll ever really eat to live instead of live to eat. But industry CEOs are responding to the market of the moment. Sales at McDonald's finally began to tick up this year after the fast-food icon filled out its salad menu and began promoting leafy fare instead of Big Macs. Sales of Splenda recently rocketed past those of NutraSweet and Equal, as Johnson & Johnson's upstart artificial sweetener reaped the benefits of a broad recommendation by the late low-carb-dieting guru, Dr. Robert Atkins. Sales growth for "natural" and organic products continues to vastly outpace the rest of the food industry.

Meanwhile, Kraft CEO Betsy Holden conceded this past fall that the company's Oreos and other well-known products were starting to lose some of their 40-percent share of the U.S. cookie market to "healthy" brands. And Unilever was blindsided over the summer by a sudden, double-digit decline in U.S. sales of Slim-Fast, as the diet-products line—which had soared by meeting the low-fat market—proved slow to react to the low-carb craze.

The 55-year-old Reinemund has adjusted to the industry's new tectonics about as deftly, in the view of Wall Street analysts and others, as any Big Food CEO so far. PepsiCo already had acquired the Tropicana orange-juice company in 1998 and, within a year after becoming CEO, in 2001 Reinemund acquired Quaker Oats and its dominant sports-drink line, Gatorade. This year, the company's Frito-Lay unit eliminated trans fats—which scientists have fingered as particularly harmful—from its salty products. And Reinemund oversaw the introduction of new, more healthful, organic versions of Doritos, Cheetos and other Frito-Lay stalwarts under the Natural moniker.

What?!? Companies are responding to the market by offering healthy food? This can't be! I thought companies imposed their will on hapless consumers and didn't do anything good without government regulation. Seriously though, if I could pick any company to lead, I wouldn't choose one in the food industry. It's a tough job running a company in an industry that is likely to face increasing amounts of litigation because consumers won't take responsibility for their eating habits.

(Let it be known that I will fight to the death for Oreos and Reeses Cups, no matter what the government does to them.)