The 2015 GHJ Food and Beverage Industry Forum was held on Sept. 29 at the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles. This year’s event focused on women as both leaders and consumers in the food and beverage industry. More than 150 attendees from the food and beverage industry and influencers participated.

The event was led by Donald Snyder, audit partner and leader of the Food and Beverage Practice at GHJ, and included great dialogue about women and their challenges and successes in the industry. The program kicked off with an overview of the industry group’s 2015 whitepaper, Women in the Food and Beverage Industry: A GHJ Report, which discussed the results of our annual survey of West Coast food and beverage executives. The overview revealed that while women are not currently holding as many leadership positions as men, there are significant benefits to having women in these roles, including investor trust and deeper insight into how women consumers are driving the movement to organic, non-GMO products. To view the whitepaper, click here.

This discussion was then followed by a keynote address by Candace Crawford, CEO of Maverick Brands LLC, who gave an eye-opening speech on the obstacles women face on the way to the boardroom. Crawford spoke about meeting investor expectations and negotiating from a new perspective. According to Crawford, women, like men, are drawn by great ideas to create and foster new products and concepts. Yet somehow on the way to the boardroom, they are sidelined or pushed to more “female-friendly” roles like marketing and human resources. The solutions she discussed included linking product design more closely to consumer needs, fostering new ideas and evolving the business into something that is valued in of itself and less for the product or idea that created the business. A challenge has been the idea that women are viewed more as product spokespeople and less of business leaders. Candace feels strongly that women are more than capable of delivering on both fronts.

After the keynote address, Snyder took the stage again to welcome three food and beverage industry leaders for a roundtable discussion: Ramona Cappello (founder of Sun Harvest Salt LLC), Ellen Chen (co-Founder of Mendocino Farms) and Bill Shen (director of Encore Consumer Capital). The panel discussed the issues that women find themselves in when starting a business. Ramona, Ellen and Bill all gave insights into the ways women and minorities have struggled to find the kind of financial support that is needed to turn products into businesses.

The forum ended with a series of interactive questions from the audience. Participants came away with a much better understanding of the struggles women face, and also the rewards that can be gained by including women in the entrepreneurship process for those companies looking to turn a fantastic product into a fantastic business.

About Alexander Brown (Senior Associate, GHJ)

Alexander Brown is a senior associate auditor at GHJ and has been with the firm more than two years after serving as an intern during the summer of 2012. Prior to officially joining the Firm in 2013, he worked as both a senior accountant and bookkeeper for various firms. He is a licensed CPA in the State of California and co-founder of the nonprofit MRSA Foundation. He holds a bachelor’s in Accountancy from California State University, Northridge.