Land O’Lakes names new chief executive
MINNEAPOLIS — Beth Ford will become the new chief executive at Land O’Lakes, moving up from a chief operating role overseeing its three largest businesses, the cooperative announced last week.
An eight-year veteran of Land O’Lakes, Ford will take the top job at the Arden Hills-based farmer-owned cooperative on Aug. 1. She will be the first female chief executive in the $14 billion history and one of only 25 female chief executives at a Fortune 500 firm.
Ford said her predecessor, Chris Policinski, left the company in good shape — both financially and strategically — by focusing on innovation and broadening the focus of the cooperative far beyond dairy products.
“We’re not necessarily going to pivot from that because that has shown success,” Ford said. “It’s really going to be a deepening and acceleration.”
Land O’Lakes is not a publicly-traded company, instead owned by 3,963 farmers and agricultural retail cooperatives in the U.S. Ford will answer to a 28-member board of farmers.
The company has evolved in recent years so that food such as butter in the dairy aisle at the grocery store — its best-known product — is not its largest nor its fastest-growing division.
Land O’Lakes’ seed, chemical, consulting and ag technology division, called WinField United, posted sales of $5.7 billion and a profit of $230 million in 2017. The animal feed business posted sales of $3.7 billion and a profit of $92 million. Both divisions grew by double digits last year.
The dairy foods business, however, which includes Land O’Lakes branded butter and milk powder sold internationally, posted sales of $3.9 billion and a profit of $71 million last year, up only slightly from 2016.
While the dairy food business is growing slower than the other divisions, Ford said the company’s “farm-to-fork” reach is an important advantage in the marketplace.
“With the desire for the consumer to really understand where their food comes from,” she said, “we can leverage our entire platform because we see across it.”
Innovation will be crucial in the packaged food business, she said, because merchants want new products that will drive traffic to stores. One the offing this summer: a squeezable butter spread, Ford said.
Before this promotion, Ford was head of the dairy food and Purina Animal Nutrition businesses.