America’s 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2016

Editor
For the sixth year in a row, we set out to identify the most powerful people in the world of food
50 Most Powerful People in Food

Brian Sheehan previews our list of some of the most powerful people in food for 2016.

Most Powerful People

Composite by Kristen Hom

Our ranking includes (clockwise): Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi, chef David Chang, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, and restaurant critic Pete Wells.

Who wields power in the American food world? For the sixth year in a row, The Daily Meal is attempting to answer that question. Which people, whether CEOs of giant corporations or TV chefs or anything in-between, have the most influence over what and how we eat?

Some people who have power in the food world have it literally — the power to make laws, disrupt the marketplace, control supply chains. Others exercise it in more subtle ways: They are the watchdogs, the inspirers, the facilitators.

America’s 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2016 (Slideshow)

Some of our most powerful people are agribusiness moguls or CEOs of major food processing and distribution concerns; some are elected or appointed officials who concern themselves with the economics and the safety of our food supply; some are celebrity chefs and other public figures who start trends and speak up for what they believe.

Power is a difficult thing to quantify, of course. It can't be judged — not solely, anyway — by number of employees, annual income, or Facebook likes. And it certainly can't be decreed by public relations departments. (Margaret Thatcher, no slouch in the power department herself, once famously said that "Being powerful is like being a lady…if you have to tell people you are, you aren't.")

How, then, did we come up with this list? The first few years we published our ranking, our editors did extensive research, reading news stories, annual reports, and editorial analyses, and consulting with experts in the various fields we cover. Then we shuffled the rankings according to strenuous and sometimes contentious editorial discussion.

Since last year, we've brought a little more order to the process. We came up with our nominations, a combination of last year's list (along with people who had appeared on previous iterations and then dropped off for one reason of another) and new candidates drawn from our own coverage of important personalities and events in food circles over the past 12 months. Next, we graded each nominee on five criteria: the number of people directly reached, the number of ways in which the candidate can reach people, and the candidate's past accomplishments, potential for future accomplishments, and proven ability to reach and influence people through his or her actions.

Many of the people listed here are return visitors from previous rankings. Among the new faces are Todd J. Vasos (#46), who, as CEO of the Dollar General stores, is becoming an increasingly important factor in the retail grocery business; Tim Ryan (#26), president of the Culinary Institute of America, which has trained more top-notch (and often high-profile) chefs that anyone; and Jeff Bezos (#22), founder and CEO of Amazon, which sells more than a million food and drink items, is the country's (and almost certainly the world's) major retailer of cookbooks, and is now even venturing into the bricks-and-mortar grocery business.

As in past years, some returnees have moved up the ladder and some have moved down. This might be because of new accomplishments (or lack thereof) or just because we're considering them from a different angle this year. We've included some household names, like television personality Rachael Ray (#40) and food-and-diet-conscious television superstar Oprah Winfrey (#29). Many of the names here, though, will be less familiar to the average reader. Among these are Jeremy Stoppelman (#9), co-founder and CEO of Yelp, the hate-it-but-can't-stop-using-it review site; Donnie Smith (#15), president and CEO of Tyson, because, well, chicken; Kathleen Finch (#17), the Scripps Networks Interactive head who oversees most of the food TV you watch; and Michael R. Taylor (#4), Deputy Commissioner for Food with the Federal Drug Administration.This is not necessarily a ranking of our favorite people, or of those we consider to be most admirable.

When we publish this ranking each year, we inevitably hear from readers outraged that we would "honor" this or that person, whether a corporate honcho or a nannyish naysayer. And every year, we answer that this is not necessarily a ranking of our favorite people, or of those we consider to be most admirable. Food policies and the food choices available to us in America are all too often affected by people whose organizations or philosophies we do not find admirable in the least. They know who they are.

Here, then, are The 50 Most Powerful People in Food, 2016 edition. What do you think? Did we miss somebody that should have been here, or include somebody that doesn't really fit? Check out the slideshow and leave a comment to let us know, and head to page two for the complete ranked list.

Additional reporting by Dan Myers.

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