Who wields power in the American food world? For the seventh year in a row, The Daily Meal is attempting to answer that question. Which people, whether CEOs of giant corporations or TV chefs or anyone in between, have the most influence over what and how we eat?
Some 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.
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 in.
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, "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.
Our process for choosing the names on this list worked this way: 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 four criteria: the number of people directly reached; the number of ways in which the candidate interacts with consumers; the candidate's past accomplishments and potential for future accomplishments; and a proven ability to reach and influence people through his or her actions. It’s also worth noting that in some instances it’s the office itself that holds the true power, so whoever holds that office is powerful by default — and that, in the case of some governmental offices, nobody is quite sure what a Trumpian future will bring. (In cases where statistics from 2014 or '15 are cited below, they are the most recent available.)
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. Here, then, are “America’s 50 Most Powerful People in Food,” 2017 edition.
Additional reporting by Dan Myers.