Across our network of more than 16,000 women-owned businesses, we see extraordinary things happening every day – new services and products, innovative business pivots, partnerships that drive growth, the perseverance to survive and thrive during times of crisis, the compassion to support others along the way. We’ve been sharing and showcasing these stories of innovation through our virtual events and on the WBENC blog. But today, we want to turn our spotlight to a special group of WBEs that support the Food & Beverage and Agriculture Industry.

As part of the WBENC Industry Spotlight Series, we asked WBENC Corporate Members in the Food & Beverage and Agriculture industry to nominate WBENC-Certified WBEs (Women’s Business Enterprises) who are driving trends and making a big impact on their industry.

Meet the WBEs they nominated – 13 trendsetting women-owned businesses delivering innovative products and solutions while driving key industry trends, including ethical sourcing, sustainability, alternatives, organic ingredients, social responsibility, and more.

Read on to learn more about their company, how they are driving the industry’s key trends, and how WBENC Certification has helped their business.


JoAnn Gilley | Overture Promotions

“Keep asking, ‘How can we do this better?’ Invest in things that help you get there. Stay nimble. Communicate with your staff, so all the rowers are pulling together.”

ABOUT:
Overture develops creative and effective promotional marketing programs for businesses of all sizes, including many of the world’s most recognizable brands. The company provides end-to-end in-house services, including domestic and international sourcing of promotional products, graphic design, web development, on-site screen printing and embroidery, 150,000 square feet of warehouse space, kit assembly, packing, and domestic and international shipping. Overture creates, builds, hosts and maintains customized webstores which give our customers an easy-to-use platform for ordering branded merchandise, with marketing support and detailed reporting

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“Overture was one of only fifteen distributors chosen to be part of the Advisory Board for the Quality Certification Alliance, the promotional product industry’s independent, non-profit organization dedicated to certifying manufacturers’ processes. As part of the board, Overture helped set product quality and supplier accreditation standards. Now, twelve years after its inception, the QCA board has voted to cease operations, thanks to its successful campaign to encourage organizations to develop their own safety and compliance programs. Overture has established their own processes for certifying manufacturers’ processes for product quality and safety, supply chain security, social accountability, and environmental stewardship.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
“Our WBE certification has created countless opportunities for Overture, by connecting us with supplier diversity professionals who have tirelessly advocated for us in their companies, often getting us a seat at the table for RFPs and projects. It has helped us identify valued partners, and connected us with amazing, accomplished women, who are always willing to help.”


Jody Corbett | Custom Millcraft Corp.

“Manufacturing is a male dominated industry which will take persistence and perseverance to achieve success. My advice is to get WBENC certified, find a mentor, make connections, be smart, have respect for your employees and clients, work hard, take on new challenges often and have fun!”

ABOUT:
Custom Millcraft Corp. manufactures custom interior Architectural Millwork, Casework and fixtures for restaurants in addition to healthcare, financial, hospitality, and retail industries.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“Sustainability is essential to the future of the Woodworking Industry. This applies not only to encouraging the use of renewable material sourcing based on environmental standards but also to our in-house manufacturing processes to reduce waste and cut production costs. To accomplish this we have made major investments in engineering software designed to maximize yield and the latest production equipment and technology to create labor efficiencies.

Custom Millcraft also supports Sustainability in the workforce providing on the job training to unskilled workers. Woodworking skills are no longer taught through our traditional educational system and are often referred to as “a dying art.” By providing our employees with trade skills and experience leading to career advancement we are contributing to their future and also impacting the future of our industry.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
Being a certified WBE for over 18 years, I have attended many WBENC National Conferences and Summit & Salutes through the years. The support and connections developed by being a part of this organization has led to serving four of my largest clients including Starbucks, Disney, Macy’s and Fifth Third Bank.


Terry Lehmann | True Green Enterprises

“Love what you do. Entrepreneurship is a 24/7 endeavor.”

ABOUT:
True Green Enterprises manufactures products made from bamboo, the most rapidly renewable resource on earth. Their products include Bath & Facial Tissue, Paper Towels, Napkins, BPI certified Bamboo Cups and Bamboo Straws.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“I semi-retired and started looking at my carbon footprint. I have children and grandchildren. We are dedicated to creating a future for our children by sustaining our earth’s precious resources

Currently our sales are up 4900% due to the pandemic. The tissue industry has seen a 15% increase and is forecasted through 2021.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
“WBENC Certification has allowed me to meet major corporate Supplier Diversity and Sustainability individuals. The WBE to WBE relationships has also been helpful.”


Lisa Hirsh | Accurate Box Company

 

“Make sure to surround yourself with the right people, to trust your instincts,
and when you have the opportunity, to invest back into your business.”

ABOUT:
Accurate Box Company is one of the largest, family-owned manufacturers of high graphic corrugated packaging in the United States. The company specializes in offset lithography and has the ability to print 7 colors plus UV coating in a single pass on both small and large runs. They are experts in creating high quality packaging for the club store, e-commerce, and quick service food industries.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“Last year, Accurate Box installed solar panels on half of its 400,000 sq. ft. facility roof. The entire system is 1 Mega-Watt and is capable of supplying up to 20% of Accurate’s electrical needs. We are also looking to expand our solar system once it becomes technologically feasible to do so.

Accurate Box manufacturers packaging that is 100% recyclable. All of Accurate Box’s paper suppliers are Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. This guarantees that Accurate obtains paper from well-managed forests, controlled sources, and/or reclaimed materials.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
The WBENC certification is a great stepping stone to showcase our capabilities to new companies that are looking to diversify their supplier base. Also, attending the annual WBENC conference and talking to other women in business has been very inspirational and educational for us.


Connie Reuther | Bay Corrugated Container, Inc.

“Be patient and don’t be pushy. Be persistent, but in a gentle fashion. In our industry, contracts can take two or more years to become available to bid so you have to be ready for them, but understand they take time. Keep yourself up-to-date on market changes and follow your prospects so you know what events they attend and meet those who will provide guidance. Lastly, don’t focus on just one company or one market to do business. Be diverse in the customer base that you serve.”

ABOUT:
Manufacturer of Custom Corrugated Packaging

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“We have a focus on using recycled materials and also recycling everything from our scrap paper to banding strap to soda and water bottles. Eighty-seven percent of the paper that we used during our FY 2020 contained recycled content. We purchase paper from numerous papermakers. A shift from using virgin grades to using recycled grades has been seen because the technology for processing recovered OCC has improved. Many of our suppliers have adopted newer technology that allows for light weighting. Light weighting is a process in which additives are introduced during paper making to produce a stronger sheet, using less fiber.

Using recycled paperboard as numerous benefits including reducing energy and water consumption, extending fiber supply and contributing to carbon sequestration, reducing landfill waste, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding methane emissions.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
“By being certified, it has given us the opportunity to attend and present our company at local, regional and national networking events. We have made some awesome relationships with some wonderful people. Through our certification, we have gained market share and learned about other industries that we had less experience with. We value the long-term business relationships that have been established and understand the importance of connecting with other diverse companies.”


Diane Dawson | Dawson Sales Company

 

“Support other women and help bring them up. Be relentless in acknowledging women in every business interaction. Bring women into the room where it happens.”

ABOUT:
Full array of food ingredients ranging from sweet to savory inclusions for the food processing industry.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“By representing suppliers that are leaders in their field that support sustainability and are making it a permanent part of their operations.”

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START YOUR BUSINESS?
Carrying on the legacy of my father, and bringing leading edge technology from my IBM experience to the brokerage.


Laurette Rondenet | Edlong

“My dad gave me a copy of a poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling and the first line starts: If you can keep you head when all about you are losing theirs. That line has come back to me many times throughout my career. Good leadership is keeping your head. Understand your strengths, passions and goals and remember that the path to achieving them will not be a straight line.”

ABOUT:
Over the last 100 years, Edlong has become the world’s leading independent flavor company by focusing on everything the taste of dairy can be. Whether sharp, sweet or savory, flavorful or functional, we believe the flavors of dairy can be the ingredient in global product development that accelerates innovation and delivers solutions even in dairy-free applications.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“We are driving this trend as we have a singular focus on dairy and can replicate mouthfeel, provide masking and sweetness enhancement inherent in dairy but without the dairy compounds. We’ve also done sensory consumer studies to show that mouthfeel is recognized and perceived not only by trained panelists, but by consumers, showing that by using flavor, you can increase the perception of viscosity. In addition, we’ve utilized a unique AI sensory technology to predict consumer preference with alternative milks to understand how consumers might perceive sweetness and profile characteristics – thus enhancing our knowledge of the space.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
Edlong is a smaller, niche company and that means that we need to work extra hard to navigate the preferred supplier networks that you often see at the bigger CPG companies. Our participation in WBENC has helped us build relationships with many respected international customers. The corporate sponsors participating in WBENC have a strong commitment to a diverse supplier network and have helped open doors for us. And once we can get in front of the right people, we can show them everything dairy can be!


Meryl Kennedy Farr | 4Sisters Rice

“At some point in everyone’s career, it is easier to quit or tell yourself that it is better to take a backseat position. This is especially true for women; we have lots of outside pressures that hinder us from pushing forward. However, real entrepreneurs and industry changers do not have the luxury of taking a backseat when times get tough.”

ABOUT:
Envisioning the need to bring sustainably grown, organic, and natural rice products to consumers nationwide, the 4 Kennedy Sisters decided to launch their own retail brand: 4Sisters and a rice farm in Louisiana. 4Sisters Rice is inspired by 4 Sisters farm-focused upbringing, whose father founded their family farm in 1964. 4Sisters Rice is grown by family farmers who source premium seed varieties from local suppliers.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“In the USA, less than 1% of all farm acres are dedicated to organic/natural production. Envisioning the need to bring sustainably grown, organic, and natural rice products to consumers nationwide, we decided to launch our own retail brand: 4Sisters and a rice farm in Louisiana.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
WBENC has substantially helped our business. We would not be where we are today in retail without our Women Owned certification. Most of all though, it has given me a network of like-minded women and men that have helped us navigate the pitfalls of starting a new brand and pushing into retail on a large scale.


Joni Stern | Stern Ingredients, Inc.

“Network, network, network.”

ABOUT:
Stern Ingredients is a supplier of specialty ingredients to the confectionery, nutritional and snack food industries.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“Supplying protein and fiber ingredients that taste great.”

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CAREER MOMENT?
“Mentoring students and helping them get jobs.”


Julia Leach | Toddy, LLC

“Be innovative! Now is the time to listen to the feedback of your customers and consumers
in general to learn what may be missing in the marketplace.”

ABOUT:
Toddy manufactures equipment for cold brewing coffee and tea. They also roast coffee and develop custom coffee and tea products for private label.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“We are innovating new products in the coffee space that are designed to help our private label clients differentiate themselves, while addressing consumer preferences for sustainable materials, organic ingredients and convenience.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
“WBENC has helped me connect with companies that I probably would never have met otherwise and has also given me additional credibility with my existing clients. I am constantly inspired by the other WBE leaders that I’ve been able to meet through WBENC events.”


Michelle Vondrasek | Von Technologies, LLC

“Although we are experiencing the most uncertain times in my career, we are strong, resilient and innovative. It may take some time, but we will get through this and the lessons we’ve learned will serve us throughout the rest of our lives.”

ABOUT:
Von has taken the patented location detection technology and algorithms, layered in alert components and a user interface to detect overcrowded areas within a facility based on site- and zone-specific parameters. Visitor data collected by CAPs is anonymized and encrypted, and never identifies specific individuals. Capacity Alert & Prevention system (CAPs) CAPs provides facility operators with the intelligence they need to implement a continuous improvement process with respect to facility occupancy and social distancing. Robust reporting not only provides facility management with an audit trail of how the facility is performing, but also useful insights into social distancing trends and feedback on management’s efforts to improve traffic flow and social distancing.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“CAPs provides a new way for businesses, offices, government facilities, and public spaces to manage physical space occupancy and workforce deployment to better balance safety and revenue generation in a pandemic/post pandemic age. CAPs provides retailers and other facility operators with the information tools they need to create a post-COVID “smart normal” that allows them to shift from thinking about safety/survival to generating “safe” revenue and providing a positive customer service experience.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
“As one of the few certified WBEs in our space, WBENC has had a significant part in our success by connecting us with customers, partners and mentors. They are unwavering in their support and committed to improving the landscape for women owned business to grow.”


Kathleen Dolan Dix | Capannari Ice Cream and Catering

“Go for it. Trust in the journey. Stay relevant. Be present, genuine and give back.”

ABOUT:
Super premium, gourmet ice cream. We cater to 70% of the high rises in Chicago. We have many wholesale accounts and a robust online presence. We also have one retail shop.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“After COVID, there will be a lot of rebuilding for businesses. Our goal is to help small businesses in our community reopen and thrive.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
“Our WBENC certification is our badge of honor. Besides giving us the opportunity to be at the table, the certification has enabled us to land everything from local clients to global clients.”


Tara Abraham | Accel Inc

“You are more capable than you know – do not let fear determine your destiny – go for it.”

ABOUT:
Accel Inc. is celebrating our 25th anniversary as a leading U.S. co-packaging, kitting and assembly company that specializes in the food/beverage, retail, health care and CPG industries. We practice GMP+ operating standards, utilize operational excellence standards based on Six Sigma and leverage cutting edge equipment to support large scale operations for our Fortune 500 clients.

HOW THEY ARE DRIVING THIS TREND:
“First, on the social responsibility front, Kellogg has contributed to our ability to make a positive impact on the community. Accel has an innovative labor model as we utilize our own integrated temporary labor service. Seventy three percent of our employees are women, many of which are immigrants or first-generation Americans looking to raise families and pursue the American dream. Accel is able to provide stable year-round employment with our growth in business with Kellogg and we have been busier than ever even through COVID19.

Second, on the natural and organic front we have secured our GOTS certification which allows us to handle and work co-packaging for any natural and organic products that Kellogg brings to market to help families find and take advantage of healthy foods.

Finally, on the sustainability front Accel and Kellogg has partnered together to leverage our ability to handle scale in our state of the art 500k sq ft facility that has allowed them to reduce significant carbon footprint on programs by using Accel in a more streamlined supply chain infrastructure. Fewer ship points means better transportation efficiencies and reduced complexity.”

HOW WBENC CERTIFICATION AS HELPED:
“Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of operating as a CSR entity. As part of that, there is an increasing push to invest in strategic partners that are diverse. Being WBENC certified business provides Accel with the credentials that companies know, trust and want to do business with. It opens doors, builds relationships and drives confidence in the marketplace.”


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