Rosenfeld, Irene

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Rosenfeld, Irene


Chief Executive Officer of Kraft Foods

B orn Irene Blecker in 1953 in New York, NY; daughter of Seymour and Joan Blecker; married Philip L. Rosenfeld (deceased); married Richard Illgen (a mergers and acquisitions specialist); children: Carol, Allison (from first marriage). Education: Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, B.A., 1975; M.S., 1977; Ph.D., 1980.

Addresses: Office—Kraft Foods Inc., 3 Lakes Dr., Northfield, IL 60093.


W orked at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample advertising agency, New York City, 1979-81; associate market research manager, General Foods, 1981; executive vice president and general manager of the beverages division, Kraft Foods Inc., 1991-94; executive vice president and general manager of the desserts and snacks division, Kraft Foods Inc., 1994-96; president, Kraft Foods Canada, 1996-2004; group vice president, Kraft Foods Inc., 2000-04; president, Kraft Foods NorthAmerica, 2003-04; chair and CEO, Frito-Lay Inc., 2004-06; CEO, Kraft Foods Inc., 2006-07; chair and CEO, Kraft Foods Inc., 2007—.

Member: Economic Club of Chicago; board of directors, Grocery Manufacturers Association and Au-toNation Inc.; trustee, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; former trustee, Steppenwolf Theatre Co., Chicago.

Awards: Masters in excellence award, Cornell University’s Center for Jewish Living, 2005; 50 most powerful women in business, Fortune magazine, 2006; 50 women to watch, Wall Street Journal, 2006; Next 20 female CEOs, Pink magazine and the Forté Foundation, 2006; 100 most powerful women, Forbes, 2006-07.


A s chief executive officer of Kraft Foods Inc., Irene Rosenfeld oversees the world’s second-largest food company. Kraft—the maker of JellO, Velveeta cheese, Oscar Mayer hot dogs, and the famed blue-box macaroni—nets $34 billion in annual sales and has a workforce 90,000 strong. As the head of Kraft, Rosenfeld is one of the top female executives in the United States. A 25year veteran of the food and beverage industry, Rosenfeld took over Kraft in 2006 after falling stock prices, rising operating costs, and a lackluster growth in sales forced the ouster of the former CEO. Known as a gifted marketer with a knack for turning around troubled brands, Rosenfeld is consistently named to lists of the most powerful women in business.

Rosenfeld was born in 1953 in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City to Seymour and Joan Blecker. She grew up in Long Island and played basketball in high school. When it came time for college, Rosenfeld stayed close to home, choosing Cornell University, which is located in Ithaca, New York. Rosenfeld earned three degrees from Cornell—a bachelor’s degree in psychology, 1975; a master’s in business, 1977; and a doctorate in marketing and statistics, 1980. As an undergraduate at Cornell, Rosenfeld ate her meals at the kosher dining hall because that is where her boyfriend dined, though she discovered the practice rooted her deeper in her Jewish faith and prompted her to keep a kosher home herself.

In 1979, Rosenfeld landed a job at the exclusive New York City ad agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, later known as Saatchi and Saatchi. In 1981, Rosenfeld joined General Foods, starting in the market research division. At the time, sales of Kool-Aid were slowing due to conscientious parents seeking less sugary drinks. Rosenfeld boosted sales, though, through a marketing campaign that repositioned the drink as a healthier alternative to soda pop.

By 1991, Rosenfeld had been promoted to vice president and general manager of the company’s beverages division. With an ability to spot market trends, Rosenfeld realized prepackaged drinks were gaining in popularity. She urged the company to purchase the foil-pouched drink-maker Capri Sun Inc. After Kraft acquired Capri Sun, the beverages division became Kraft’s fastest-growing unit. “Irene recognized the growing ready-to-drink business opportunity and recognized that we at Kraft were not in it in a meaningful way,” Kraft executive vice president Paula Sneed recalled in an article in the Montreal Gazette. Rosenfeld also brought religious tolerance to the company, setting up Hanukkah candles in the lobby next to the Christmas tree during the holiday season.

In 1994, Rosenfeld was named vice president and general manager of the desserts and snacks division. Under Rosenfeld’s direction, the company introduced sugar-free JellO snack cups, which reversed the slide in JellO sales. In the early 1990s, Kraft and General Foods merged and in 1996, Rosenfeld became president of Kraft Foods Canada. In an effort to reach consumers, Rosenfeld had the company mail out a free magazine filled with recipes and cooking tips to one million households, thus creating interest in Kraft products. By 2000, Rosen-feld was group vice president of Kraft Foods Inc. Her major accomplishment in this position included the successful integration of Nabisco, the maker of Oreos and Ritz crackers, which Kraft purchased for $18.9 billion in 2000. In 2003, Rosenfeld was named president of Kraft Foods North America.

After 20plus years with the company, Rosenfeld left in 2004 to become chairman and CEO of Frito-Lay—a snack division of PepsiCo—which includes brands like Lay’s, Doritos, Fritos, Rold Gold, Tosti-tos, and Quaker. Once again, Rosenfeld spotted an emerging trend in consumers desiring healthier snacks. She persuaded Frito-Lay to make a switch to using heart-healthier sunflower oil, which is low in saturated fat. She also oversaw the rollout of the 90calorie Quaker chewy granola bar, which boasted 30 percent fewer calories than the original. She urged the company to acquire Stacy’s Pita Chips. In 2005, the healthier snacks unit of Frito-Lay enjoyed double-digit growth, as compared to the single-digit growth of Frito-Lay’s traditional products. Frito-Lay’s net revenues grew eight percent—to $10.3 billion—in 2005, making the snacks division the most profitable unit of PepsiCo.

In 2006, a troubled Kraft lured Rosenfeld back to its headquarters in Northfield, Illinois, naming her CEO. The situation at Kraft was unstable with stagnant sales and growing operating costs. In 2005, costs for packaging, fuel, and other commodities soared by $800 million. Kraft passed the cost along to consumers, who balked at the higher prices and turned to private-label products that sold for less. In addition, stock prices had dipped 21 percent in 2005 amidst declining profits and a loss of market share.

After taking over and studying the product lines, Rosenfeld announced that she planned to revive the company by developing healthier, more convenient, and improved products. “We have to stop apologizing for our categories and start reinventing them,” Rosenfeld told Fortune’s Matthew Boyle. Under Rosenfeld’s direction, Kraft upgraded beans for Maxwell House coffee, tried new versions of Di-Giorno pizza, and changed the shape of the Oreo— for a limited time only. Kraft also rolled out a new Singles Select cheese with a sharper, more robust taste. The cheese was targeted at adult consumers nostalgic for the individually wrapped singles they grew up with but preferring more adult tastes. Rosenfeld also increased sales of macaroni-and-cheese by introducing a more convenient, snack-sized microwavable version called Easy Mac. Kraft introduced organic and 50 percent whole grain lines of macaroni, as well as a deluxe line that features sun-dried tomato.

As 2007 rolled to a close, the numbers were looking better at Kraft. The innovations in the mac-and-cheese line led to a six percent increase in macaroni sales in 2007, reversing what had been a four-year decline. Some analysts hailed the increase as a sign that Rosenfeld’s plan to revitalize tried-and-true products just might work. Some insiders were less optimistic. As Morningstar Inc. analyst Gregg War ren told David Sterrett of Crain’s Chicago Business, “Macaroni and cheese shows how Kraft can turn around some brands. That said, there are limitations to what they can do, because when you have $34 billion in sales, you have to do lots of things to make a difference.”



Marquis Who’s Who, Marquis Who’s Who, 2008.


Crain’s Chicago Business, July 9, 2007, p. 1; December 24, 2007, p. 1.

Fortune, April 30, 2007, p. 108.

Gazette (Montreal, Canada), June 28, 2006, p. B7.

International Herald Tribune, February 19, 2007, p. 13.

Times (London, England), June 27, 2006, p. 39.


“At Kraft, a Fresh Big Cheese,” BusinessWeek, (January 27, 2008).

“Irene Rosenfeld,” Kraft, (January 27, 2008).

“It’s the Best of Times for Women in Corporate America,” 15 Minutes magazine, (February 14, 2008).

“The 100 Most Powerful Women: 9 Irene Rosen-feld,” Forbes, (January 27, 2008).

—Lisa Frick

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