The Specialty Food Association’s Eighth Annual Leadership Awards honor food industry frontrunners who go above and beyond by creating positive social, economic, and/or environmental impact through innovation and vision. Their efforts build a better world. While managing successful businesses, Leadership Award winners also:
- Demonstrate sound ethics, professionalism, transparency and collegiality within our industry
- Pioneer innovative products, practices, and business models
- Advance food standards and the positive role food can play in the future of society
Our 2020 winners will be honored at the Leadership Awards Ceremony and Reception, which will take place on Sunday, January 19, from 5 – 6:30 pm at Moscone Center in San Francisco. All Show attendees are welcome to attend to celebrate the social good being done by the specialty food industry.
Leadership Awards are given in three categories:
- Business Leadership: Advancing best practices across the spectrum of workforce issues to benefit food industry personnel.
- Citizenship: Improving the lives of people and communities by advancing environmental and social sustainability knowledge and practice.
- Vision: Pioneering new approaches, innovative products and business models to set in motion positive change and progress.
Members of the Specialty Food Association and others in the trade nominate individuals for the Leadership Awards. The SFA’s Recognition Industry Work Group selected the winners.
Lorenza Pasetti, Volpi Foods
Giovanni Volpi, an Italian immigrant intimate with the ancient craft of dry-curing meat, opened Volpi Foods in St. Louis, Mo. in 1902. Salami was his shop’s first product, soon joined by prosciutto, guanciale, pancetta, and coppa.
Italians are known for passing their businesses down through the male line, but Lorenza Pasetti, Volpi’s great niece, became president in 2002 after her father, Armando Pasetti, stepped down. “It’s part of my DNA,” she says. “Some things you don’t do for money; it’s just the right thing to do.”
Taking over the company 100 years after its founding, she widely expanded its offerings and its reach in the national marketplace. Shortcuts? Absolutely not. One of her feet remains firmly planted in Italian tradition, the other on the accelerator for expansion while maintaining quality.
Lorenza grew up in the business, hand-wrapping salami at the age of 14 and waiting on customers in the shop. After high school she left to study psychology and history at the University of Michigan, then came back to St. Louis to get an MBA at Washington University. She officially joined the company in the mid-1980s. At that time, there were 12 employees and 8 SKUs; today there are 210 employees and 150 SKUs, most launched during her reign.
There is salami infused with wine, for instance, mortadella studded with pistachios and roltini snacks of mozzarella and pepperoni. Lorenza made a push toward sourcing free-roaming, heritage breeds from local, sustainable farms. “Now dry-cured meats and charcuterie are really in vogue,” Lorenza says. “After 117 years, we’re an overnight success.”
The original shop is still in operation and Lorenza’s father, 95, comes in to work some days. Volpi Foods shows every sign of lasting into the next century: Lorenza’s three millennial-aged children – two women and one man – all work in the business.
- 1902: Giovanni Volpi establishes the Volpi Company by opening a small storefront in The Hill, an Italian neighborhood in St. Louis
- 1938: Armando Pasetti (Giovanni’s nephew and Lorenza’s father) arrives and lives with his aunt and uncle to learn the trade
- 1957: Volpi passes away after growing the company and reaching customers as far as New York City and Chicago; Armando takes over
- 1985: Lorenza Pasetti enters the business
- 1993: Sheets of mozzarella and slices of prosciutto rolled in pinwheels enter the market
- 1997: The company adds a second, 64,000-square-foot production facility (Due), concentrating on prosciutto
- 2002: Lorenza is named president and introduces sliced products
- 2004: A third, 50,000-square-foot production facility (Tre) opens
- 2010 “Tre” doubles in size to 100,000 square feet
- 2013: Snack items are introduced, combining various cheeses with Volpi salumi (mozzarella/prosciutto; mozzarella/salami; Oaxaca/Chorizo)
- 2016: Debut of a fourth facility (Quattro), a state-of-the-art, 125,000-square-foot prosciutto plant
- 2017: Volpi Culatello Prosciutto wins sofi Silver for Best Charcuterie
Elizabeth Stein, Purely Elizabeth
Elizabeth Stein, 38, had long enjoyed cooking and baking but did not take it seriously. Then came the day in 2008 when she made a batch of gluten-free blueberry muffins to hand out from a booth at a Westchester, N.Y. race expo.
Stein, from Philadelphia, worked in sales and marketing for a handbag company. From doing Ironman triathlons, she became interested in eating better and enrolled in New York City’s Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Pivoting from handbags, she set up practice as a holistic health counselor and worked one-on-one with a dozen or so clients to guide their wellness journeys. Part of it was urging them to go gluten-free for 30 days to see if they felt better.
People went wild for her muffins – made with almond flour, millet, flax, hemp, and chia seeds – and asked where they could buy them. “I told them to sign up for my nutrition newsletter and I’d let them know when they were available,” she says.
Elizabeth got to work, baking up a business with help from her mother and a friend from high school. In 2009 she launched Purely Elizabeth Blueberry Muffin Mix, Apple Cinnamon Muffin Mix, Cacao Muffin Mix, and Perfect Pancake Mix. A website picked up the news and within about two weeks she had 10,000 orders.
Soon, Purely Elizabeth products were stocked at retailers in Philadelphia and New York, followed by Whole Foods Mid-Atlantic. Elizabeth added Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix and Purely Elizabeth Granola to her repertoire, which has become her biggest seller. In 2013, Whole Foods launched her brand nationally; sales reached $1 million.
The company, a Certified B Corporation using non-GMO, organic ingredients, seeks to promote a healthy food system through sustainability and transparency and be a force for good. To that end, it has donated to nonprofits such as Slow Food USA, Wellness in the Schools, Charity: Water, and the Fruit Tree Planting Organization.
- 2007: Elizabeth Stein enrolls in New York’s Institute for Integrative Nutrition
- 2008: Starts a practice as a wellness counselor and hands out her homemade gluten-free muffins
- 2009: Launches four Purely Elizabeth gluten-free mixes for muffins and pancakes
- 2010: Mixes are stocked at Philadelphia and New York City retailers and Whole Foods Mid-Atlantic; introduces cookie mix to the line
- 2011: Purely Elizabeth Granola launches; Purely, a digital magazine, publishes its first issue
- 2013: Launch of Purely Elizabeth Ancient Grain Granola Bar; Elizabeth appears on QVC; Whole Foods promotes the brand nationally; sofi finalist for Original Ancient Grain Granola; company hits $1 million in sales
- 2014: Elizabeth relocates from New York to Boulder, CO; Ancient Grain Oatmeal line launches
- 2015: Elizabeth’s first cookbook, Eating Purely, is published; company achieves Certified B Corporation status
- 2016: Probiotic Granola and Grain-Free Granola are introduced
- 2017: Purely Elizabeth is named No. 1 for granola sales in the natural food channel
- 2019: Purely Elizabeth launches 10 new products to celebrate its 10-year anniversary, with 76 SKUs in total
Natalie Shmulik, The Hatchery, Chicago
Shmulik, a Canadian, studied English and theatre as an undergraduate at Toronto’s York University and followed up with a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Gastronomy at Boston University. Learning about food’s huge impact on history, religion, society, and individuals fascinated her. It has also proved pivotal in her job as CEO of The Hatchery, a nonprofit food and beverage incubator headquartered in a underserved neighborhood on the west side of Chicago where there is limited access to nutritious food.
“You know the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none?’” she asks. “I think that’s incorrect. You actually have to be a jack of all trades to master one. All of my experience in the food industry, in retailing, marketing, designing, writing, and consumer packaged goods, led me to this incubation job.”
Post-college, Natalie owned and ran a breakfast and lunch franchise in Toronto called Sunset Grill. At supermarket chain Longo’s, she worked on the demo program and culinary school, introducing new products to shoppers and learning how they navigated the aisles. “I realized something big was coming down the pipeline and really connected to the opportunity to do more,” she says.
And that’s what she has accomplished at The Hatchery, which supports local entrepreneurs without start-up funds or professional resources to build and grow businesses and cultivate community jobs. The joint venture is between two Chicago nonprofits, Accion and the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago. Shmulik was hired as a consultant in 2015 and became CEO in 2018.
“First and foremost, I wanted to create a feeling of safety for the entrepreneurs,” she says. “It’s an uphill battle trying to figure it all out on your own; the margins, dealing with perishable products. We wanted to give them what they needed to be as successful as possible, a way to share strategies and knowledge and be with like-minded individuals. It can be so isolating and mentally draining and exhausting, and you question if you have the strength to continue.”
At the incubator’s new $34 million, 67,000-square-foot facility, Natalie teaches classes on how to start a food business. Thirty to 50 sign up every month who are eager to network, learn about trademarks and trade secrets, raising capital, branding, and getting legal advice. Corporate sponsorship has been instrumental to The Hatchery and the city of Chicago is an enthusiastic advocate. So far, 150 local jobs have been created.
- 2008: Natalie buys and manages a franchise of Sunset Grill, a Canadian breakfast and lunch chain
- 2010: Works for a Canadian grocer, Longo’s
- 2013: Earns a Master degree in gastronomy from Boston University; works as a consultant for EvyTea in the Boston area
- 2014: Moves to Chicago to work for a food business incubator
- 2015: Becomes a consultant for a joint venture between Accion and Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago to find a way to invest in underprivileged food and beverage entrepreneurs in Chicago neighborhoods with high unemployment; the company launches as a virtual incubator
- 2017: The Hatchery is incorporated on the west side of Chicago
- 2018: Natalie is named CEO of The Hatchery
- 2019: A $34 million, 67,000-square-foot facility opens, featuring dozens of state-of-the-art kitchens, business planning services, event spaces, and classrooms