Wendy Davidson remembers her first Women’s Foodservice Forum back in 1995. She had just started a new marketing position at Tyson Foods, and her manager had suggested she attend. At the time, the group’s numbers hovered around 300, but what WFF lacked in size, it made up for enthusiasm; she was quickly introduced to CMOs, editors, and other foodservice professionals.

“What amazed me is every one of them said, ‘Tell me your story. Tell me where you want to go, and let me know how I can help you,’” Davidson says. “I was struck by that. Here are these very experienced women who are willing to let me learn and develop in my career.”

Flash-forward to 2016, and Davidson, who is president at Kellogg and was recently elected as chair of the WFF board, says that core mission hasn’t changed. What has changed is the scale and scope of the organization. In March, when WFF hosts its annual conference in Dallas, it is expecting some 3,000 attendees. It has also teamed up with the Coca-Cola Company, Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport, and Amegy Bank of Texas to offer a special Entrepreneur Boot Camp during the four-day conference.

Davidson says the Boot Camp launched last year and has already received helpful feedback. This year the half-day workshop will focus on marketing and branding with panel discussions and special presentations by Nely Galan, media mogul and founder of the Adelante Movement, an organization empowering Hispanic women to become entrepreneurs.

Beyond the educational and networking opportunities in Dallas, the WFF is also bolstering its programming beyond the annual meet. Last year it tested a series of leadership development workshops in six markets; the aim this year is to expand the offering to a dozen cities.

“Instead of sending someone to the conference, which is a large investment, we now essentially bring WFF programming in a condensed form to you,” Davidson says. “We know 60 percent of conference attendees every year are new to WFF and new to conference … We want to make sure we’re giving opportunities to provide that same development opportunity closer to market.”

WFF has also embarked on a strategic plan to have women represent 30 percent of foodservice boards by 2020. Some brands like Kellogg, whose board is 43 percent female, are ahead of the curve, but other are far behind. Each year between now and then will focus on a specific, quantifiable goals, such as expanding WFF’s reach with other communications and public relations firms or optimizing program delivery to be even more convenient for its members.

Davidson says next month’s conference should help further those goals with speakers like Anna Chávez, who is the CEO of Girl Scouts.

“What’s really unique about Girl Scouts, if you think about it: They’re building the leadership skills of girls from a young age until they’re 18 and then the foodservice industry takes them from 18 and supports them throughout the rest of their careers,” Davidson says. “There’s this wonderful symbiotic relationship between what the mission of Girl Scouts is and what the mission of WFF is just sort of taking it one step forward.”

By Nicole Duncan

Business Advice, News