International Women’s Day: Who are the women making a difference in the snacks industry?

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

One of The Worthy Company's Blendie Bowls. Pic: The Worthy Company
One of The Worthy Company's Blendie Bowls. Pic: The Worthy Company

Related tags Snacks Women women in business Pepsico

From the first plant-based, all-in-one snack bowl to healthy, on-the-go snacking and 100% safe-to-eat cookie dough, we celebrate the women making a difference in the snacks industry.

The 10 finalists​ of PepsiCo's inaugural Female Funding Challenge announced last month were due to pitch their businesses for a chance to win $100k at the Natural Products Expo West show, but this was postponed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

International Women’s Day

The WomanMade Expo West Challenge is a PepsiCo initiative to promote female-founded businesses in the food and beverage industry to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8.

We were blown away by the 100+ submissions we received for our inaugural WomanMade challenge, and while it was difficult to narrow down the outstanding work being done by women in the food and beverage industry, the 10 women we’ve selected as finalists are so deserving of the recognition​,” said Ciara Dilley, VP, transform brands & portfolio innovation, Frito-Lay.

Dedicated to championing diversity and inclusion, our entire WomanMade team is proud to do our part in providing much-needed support to female founders as they scale their businesses​.

We’re honoured to highlight these women as they continue to be a driving force in our industry​.” 

Here we announce the finalists​ and highlight those in the bakery and snacks sector to find out what sets them apart from the crowd.

Sarah Renahan and Nydia Shipman, co-founders of The Worthy Company, set up their company after leaving the corporate world and having families of their own, to help everyone eat more plants, avoid animal products, protect mother earth and feel their worthiest.

We wanted a delicious plant-based snack offering complete nutrition we could eat on-the-go​," said Shipman.

We couldn’t find anything available in the market so we had no choice but to make it ourselves​.”

Superfood Blendie Bowls 

Their product range includes four Superfood Blendie Bowls made from 100% vegan fruit and veggies, including Green Tropics, Dark Cocoa Cherry, Strawberries & Greens and Vanilla Orange with 8g each of fibre and plant proteins from ingredients like broccoli, banana, strawberry, kale, chia and oranges. 

"We are focused on establishing Worthy as the go-to brand for complete plant-based nutrition that is also delicious and portable in a very crowded area of the retail store,"​ added Shipmam.

"To be sure we are reaching our consumers where they shop, we are expanding beyond retail into food service, alternative channels, big box stores and making sure we are making Worthy Bowls easy to find for online shoppers through our pages and soon on as well. 

"We have received some amazing advice over the years from industry veterans and newbies alike, but for us, we can’t emphasise enough the importance of the team. For anyone starting out, we would advise that you must be passionate about what you are creating but to also know that starting a food company is about so much more than creating a great food product. To survive and grow, you have to find the right people to work with you and it’s crucial to bring people in who love and respect your vision but will push back and challenge you."

Kate Flynn, co-founder Sun & Swell Foods, realised her world had changed for the better after tackling Whole30 for the first time in 2016 and seeing the benefits of eating a whole food, plant-based diet. Frustrated by the lack of real food snack options, she set out to redefine the world of packaged snack foods by making healthy eating more accessible to everyone. 

Her portfolio includes Energy Snack Bites, Clean Cookies, Trail Mixes to Crackers. Constantly trying to find ways to come up with a more sustainable packaging, Flynn currently works with TIPA Corp in Israel, which makes compostable packaging. But the problem is the shelf life is nine months, which creates challenges for distribution.  

Our mission is to empower consumers to make better snacking choices for themselves and the planet​,” said Flynn. “We quickly realised there was another big problem in the packaged-food space: plastic waste. From ingredients to supplies to finished products, the entire supply chain of packaged food companies is very reliant on single-use plastics​.”  


Edoughable edible cookie dough is 100% safe to eat because the company uses no egg, no raw flour and no chemical leavener. Founder Rana Lustyan, a Le Cordon Bleu trained pastry chef, came up with the idea after seeing a news item about a food recall where almost four million units of a well-known cookie dough were taken off the shelves due to contamination. 

She decided to create her own dough using real, all-natural ingredients like hormone-free butter and alcohol-free vanilla bean extract. 

To make it 100% safe to eat, we take more steps than anyone in the industry. This means no stomach-aches or science experiments going on in your tummy​,” she said. 

"Advice I would give to someone just starting out would be to start small. Really spend time getting to know your customer. Try to get that first account and then nurture it to really understand what your secret sauce is, what gets that product into someone’s cart. Really love your product and its benefits. Why does the world need that product?  And while it seems there are always thousands of things to do, take the time to think and plan your strategy, or you can get caught up in lots of doing and you can feel lost. Having a strong strategy will help keep you focused​.

According to research by American Express, the number of women-owned businesses grew 58% between 2007 and 2018, and by 46% in terms of revenue. A study conducted by Mass Challenge and BCG also found that businesses founded by women deliver higher revenue – more than two times as much per dollar invested – than those founded by men. However, according to PitchBook Data, of all venture capitalist funding invested in 2018, only 2.2% was given to female-founded companies and only 0.2% went to diverse female entrepreneurs.

Made Smarter Commission

Andrea Thompson, BAE Systems

The digital transformation of food manufacturing has the potential to kickstart a golden age for women in the industry, claims Andrea Thompson, MD, Europe & International Programmes at BAE Systems.

She is now aiming to inspire the next generation of women to follow suit through her role as chair of the Made Smarter Commission's North West Pilot. 

When I started in manufacturing it was another world,” ​she said. “I was one of very few women going into the automotive industry, particularly the manufacturing end of it. Women’s interest in the sector just wasn’t there back then in any large numbers. 

I worked on the shop floor, amongst mostly unionised, older males. The facilities, machinery and processes were so different, too. Running a manufacturing business was very manual involving Excel spreadsheets, lots of paper, and counting how many pieces had been made or processed. Data analysis was also extremely manual.​” 

Today, the manufacturing industry paints a completely different picture, Thompson said, no more so than at BAE Systems. Of the 10,000 people working from its Lancashire site, 20% are women including 500 engineers. Almost a quarter of new starters through BAE’s UK apprenticeship programmes last year were female, while the number of women in senior management positions is rising. 

The amount of progress is incredible,” ​Thompson said. “Today, the environment has a much higher percentage of females, and in all kinds of ranks. They’re on the shop floor, working with machinery, in R&D, in management and senior leadership. Women are everywhere now​.” 

Thompson believes advances in technology and cultural changes in the industry are behind the increase. 

As well as a cultural perspective, it’s changed from a manual outlook,” ​she said. “There’s no counting. Instead it’s analysing data, figuring out how to be more efficient and effective​. 

A completely different skillset is required. And women have this. They bring data analytical skills, along with a forward-thinking, strategic and innovative approach.” 

Thompson believes Made Smarter and the North West pilot offers a unique opportunity to encourage more women to succeed in manufacturing. 

Manufacturing is more innovative than it has ever been. Modern factories are in clean, high-tech buildings rather than dirty environments for metal bashing. Manufacturers are getting things done using advanced technologies like robotics, 3D printing and intelligent machines, and using data, the cloud and analysis to find better ways of doing things.​” 

Thompson believes by educating women on the true image of modern manufacturing, Made Smarter can play a crucial role in addressing the gender imbalance in the industry. 

It is leading by example, positioning women at the top levels of its organisation. The Made Smarter national commission’s leadership team is almost a 50/50 gender mix and includes industry luminaries such as Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of manufacturing trade body, Make UK; Dr Hayaatun Sillem, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering; Margaret Wood, chair of ICW; Carolyn Fairbairn, CEO of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI); Dame Fiona Kendrick, chair and CEO of Nestle UK and Ireland; Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC; Katherine Bennett, senior VP of Airbus UK; and Andrea Hough, MD of ATEC Engineering Solutions. 

The gender mix can also be seen with the North West Pilot steering group, where Thompson leads a team including Andrea Hough of ATEC Engineering Solutions; Donna Edwards, programme director for Made Smarter North West Adoption Pilot; Carlene Nobile of BAE Systems; Simone Peppi of The Pilot Group; Jayne Moorby of Oxley Group; Gill Marsden of NIS; Emma Degg of North West Business Leadership Team; Jude Holmes, Ruth Hailwood and Amanda Lyons of Made Smarter; and Clare Porter of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). 

As to the future, BAE Systems’ Andrea Thompson has great optimism. 

“Ten years from now I expect we’ll see an even higher percentage of women in manufacturing, especially considering that more young females are taking STEM subjects​,” she said. 

Kristy Lewis, founder of Quinn Snacks, has been included in Whole Foods’ Women Makers Female Firsts initiative, highlighting and supporting women industry leaders who are raising the bar and inspiring others to create new and better products.

I am honoured and thrilled to be listed among so many women and businesses that I admire,​” said Lewis.    

Quinn Snacks is an advocate for full ingredient transparency in the food system and was named 2017 Snack Producer of the Year by Snack Food and Wholesale Bakery. 

Lewis was also honoured as one of the Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs by Fortune Magazine, and has won multiple awards including Best Packaging Innovation for its Pure Pop microwave popcorn bag made with compostable paper.

Quinn Snacks

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