In her Food Report 2024, Hanni Rützler, one of Europe’s foremost food experts, cites the transformative influence of female connoisseurs as a major trend to watch in 2024.
A diverse and international range of women are increasingly catalysts for change across the food and beverage landscape — and Rützler herself is an example of the trend. As founder of futurefoodstudio, she is a world-renowned nutritional scientist, food trends researcher and culinary consultant.
Rützler noticed that a growing number of women are founding innovative food startups focused on sustainability.
“I looked at where women have become more visible and identified some best practices,” she said. “In doing so, it became clear that they work more as a team and are focusing more on sustainability, the future and health.”
Here are a few women who are leading the way in cultivating sustainability in the food industry.
Susana Cueva Drumright: A Toast-Worthy Commitment to a Brighter Future
As one of Napa Valley’s only Latina executives, Susana Cueva Drumright is not only making award-winning wines, but she’s also paving the way for future generations to gain the education they need to succeed.
In partnership with her husband, Hayes, she has fused the two passions as co-founder of Vida Valiente Estate Winery, a producer of world-class cabernet sauvignon wines, and the Vida Valiente Foundation, which helps first-generation students achieve success through scholarships and mentorships at prestigious American universities. “Vida Valiente” (Spanish for “Valiant Life”) is the credo that encapsulates Drumright’s dual approach to business and advocacy.
The youngest of eight children of Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants, Drumright uses profits from the winery to support the foundation and her vision of a more equitable future for the next generation.
Her commitment to ensuring the success of generations to come puts her at the forefront of sustaining a priceless resource: human potential. As her bio states on the winery’s website: “Using profits from their Vida Valiente Estate Winery, the foundation is sustaining, providing the tools, investments and mentorship that help instill the confidence and bravery it takes to thrive as a successful adult.”
Maija Itkonen: Changing the Game with Animal-Free Egg Proteins
As a lifelong vegetarian and serial entrepreneur, Miaja Itkonen has defined her career with a drive to find protein sources that are delicious, nutritious and have a minimal impact on the environment. In 2015, she launched plant-based meat firm Gold&Green Foods, which developed a proprietary process to create fibrous plant-based meat products with oats as the primary ingredient.
Her latest endeavor is acting as CEO and co-founder of Onego Bio, a company producing Bioalbumen™, an animal-free egg white protein using precision fermentation. Onego Bio claims that Bioalbumen™production uses 95% less land, 79-89% less greenhouse gas emissions and 72% less water than conventional chicken egg white production. It also provides the same nutrition and functionality as traditional egg whites.
“Bioalbumen is not a substitute; it is the real thing,” Itkonen told Vegconomist. “It is part of an emerging category of animal-free ingredients produced through fermentation.”
The ground-breaking animal-free protein was recently selected as the Food category winner and an Agriculture category finalist in Fast Company’s 2023 World Changing Ideas Awards.
“As widely used as they are, egg whites are often the last frontier before entirely animal-free products can be manufactured. Ovalbumin is ‘one of nature’s wonders.’ We anticipate that by bringing such an important ingredient to the market, many food system challenges can be solved, even outside of the egg market,” Itkonen commented on the recognition.
Parvin Razavi: Helping Plant-Based Sustainability and Healthy Eating Flourish
In using her better-for-you plant-based culinary heritage as a basis for sustainable menu innovation, Parvin Razavi combines the trends of sustainability and health among women change-makers.
Born in Iran, Razavi was raised with a rich culinary heritage of vegan and vegetarian dishes prepared in her family kitchen, where her passion for cooking took root. Today, she is renowned for her sustainable approach to plant-based cooking that represents a kind of culinary crossroads of Middle Eastern influences.
At her restaurant &flora in Vienna, she maximizes each plant ingredient for a menu that showcases a varied mix of food cultures. Women who share her passion for sustainably sourced and prepared vegan fare make up the majority of her staff — a fact that “may gladly be interpreted as a clear statement in the gastronomy scene,” as she puts it.
The author of “Vegan Recipes from the Middle East,” Razavi cut her teeth as a sustainable and vegan food authority with her blog “thx4cooking” and as an editor for Biorama, a magazine for a sustainable lifestyle. Gault&Millau named her Austria’s 2023 Newcomer of the Year.
Mary Molina: Mompreneur Nourishes Gut Health with Snack Bar Brand
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, as Mary Molina has shown so well.
The founder and CEO of the probiotic energy bar company LOLA Snacks was a struggling mom on food assistance when she conceived of healthy bars that her kids with food allergies and her husband, who has digestive issues, could enjoy worry-free. Molina used innovative ingredients, including spore-forming gluten-free and dairy-free probiotics, to create bars that promote gut health and have a stable shelf life.
In collaboration with doctors and nutritionists, she developed the proprietary blend of pre- and probiotics that formed the basis of her line of energy bars for the 70% of Americans affected by gut health issues, from bloating to irritable bowel syndrome.
What started as experimentation in her family kitchen has expanded into a brand with a lucrative distribution deal with CA Fortune, the consumer brands agency with a roster of top health food companies. LOLA Snacks are nationwide across natural and conventional grocery channels.
“Our products are resonating with consumers, and we believe that this growth phase attests to that. We couldn’t be more excited about the future of Lola and the incredible partners we have chosen,” said Molina.
Lauren Gropper: Tableware That Steps Up to the Plate for Sustainability
Recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of 100 Women of Influence in 2022, Lauren Gropper has made it her mission to bring revolutionary sustainability solutions to the table — literally.
Gropper is the founder and CEO of Repurpose, the leader in wide-ranging plant-based compostable tableware, from plates, cups and cutlery to garbage bags and paper towels. No more environmentally hazardous plastic tableware or water and energy wasted on washing dishes. Made from upcycled, backyard-compostable plant materials, including eucalyptus, sugarcane pulp and wood, the brand’s 100% plastic-free items are sold in over 15,000 stores nationwide.
“From my viewpoint, the problem of single-use plastic waste is a design problem,” said Gropper. “Why are we using petroleum, a finite resource that we dig out of the ground, as the primary material for disposable products? What if they could be made from plants, totally nontoxic and fully degradable? The biggest obstacles in our way are the huge legacy brands who continue to make plastic disposable products and have outsize influence with our retail partners. Fortunately, the tide is turning. Consumers are demanding sustainable alternatives."
Gropper is not only helping to save the planet. She’s harnessing the power of women to do it. Her female-led company has 83% of its leadership roles filled by women, pointing to a future where more women can assume positions of authority.
One thing is for sure, as all the women profiled here show, female change-makers are leading the charge for greater sustainability, healthier food options and a brighter future in 2024 and beyond.
Read about other groundbreaking women, such as Foodservice Women’s Alliance Founder and Chairwoman Julie Swift, in Reset the Table, our agency initiative to empower change and encourage equality in the industry.