View From The Top: Q & A with Diane Holdorf, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP, Kellogg Company

September 28, 2016 02:48 AM
Diane Holdorf

Explain your role with the Kellogg Company. How does it fit into your overall mission? 
Sustainability helps inform the growth strategy for one of the most iconic food companies. Since our founder, W.K. Kellogg, we’ve been very dedicated to conservation, philanthropy and engaging in our communities. 

I see my role as a chief sustainability officer in how we continue to bring that work to life, not only through how we execute work in our own operations by reducing water and energy use, waste and greenhouse gas emissions, but also in how we engage in our whole value chain for social, ethical and environmental purposes. 

Company: Kellogg Company is a Fortune 200 food manufacturing company headquartered in Battle Creek, Mich. It produces and sells more than 1,600 cereal and convenience foods under brands, such as Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, Cheez-It, Eggo, Keebler and Kashi, in more than 180 countries. Company sales in 2015 were $13.5 billion, making it the world’s leading cereal company; the second-largest producer of cookies, crackers and savory snacks; and a leading North American frozen foods company. 

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in public communications and German from 
Syracuse University

Leadership philosophy: One of the most important things for me is mutual respect and how that helps everyone be successful. That’s true both within the company and across partnership work. I wouldn’t call it a philosophy, but it is truly a core value for me. I find it helps us achieve the best together.

How did your personal and professional background lead you to this role?
I have a bit of an unusual path. I grew up in the sciences. My dad was a geologist. Starting at the age of 14, I worked at the company where he worked. I did all kinds of different jobs, from field surveying to organizing the maps to helping in the accounting room. I eventually started working directly with some of the clients on the marketing side. It was a great way to learn. I loved the tangible business-to-business engagement and ability to drive meaningful results. I started working in consulting and spent 20 years at Delta Consultants, a global environment, health and safety, and sustainability consulting firm. I helped manage an international joint venture the company had in the United Kingdom. It was through a client that I found out about this opportunity at Kellogg.

Describe your company’s place in agriculture. How does Kellogg view its farmer connection?
We really believe in the credentials of our food. But it is the farmers who are the origin of that. They are the ones stewarding those ingredients. The care they give to the grains that eventually make their way into our food is really important to us. We don’t own farms. We work with farmers through our suppliers, who are often the millers and the processors. As a grain-based company, we really understand farmers are at the core of the success of our food. 

What food trends do you see on the horizon in the next five to 10 years?
Farmers are all aware of the push for transparency. People really want to know where their food comes from, who grows it and how it is made. 

Increasingly, people want to know there is enough food for everyone. These are issues we care deeply 
about at Kellogg. 

That trend around transparency will only continue, which is connected to the continued desire for “real food.” There really is no definition for “real food,” but we expect the trend to have real and recognizable ingredients will continue, as well. Another thing we get really excited about is the continued welcoming of new ingredients. For us, that can mean “new” grains. They are not new grains, but relative to today’s consumers, they feel new—things like quinoa, barley, teff and bulgur. These are ancient grains, but people are increasingly willing to embrace them. 

Our big grains such as rice, wheat and corn will always be there, but the reintroduction of these ancient grains brings new opportunities. 

We’ve started to see interest from farmers on how they could begin using barley, for example, as a rotational crop or reassess their use of marginal acres.

How are you answering consumer questions about your products and related farming practices?
This year, we launched a website,, to help tell the story of Kellogg and our food. 

 A newly launched website called Open for  Breakfast introduces consumers to the  farmers who grow grains for Kellogg  Company.

It’s a digital and social media space to hear what’s on peoples’ minds and to share stories about our products. The farmers we work with share stories about their operations, and they are some of the most-visited parts of the site. It shows how much our consumers love hearing from the farmers themselves. Through the platform, we are able to give farmers a direct connection to consumers to tell their story. 

With increasing pressure around transparency and “real food,” those kinds of things make a huge difference for us, and we find that it can also really make a difference for our farmers, as well.

How do you motivate and mentor the employees who are on your business team?
We try to understand what is truly motivating and how we can empower the team to lead and be successful. That includes day-to-day coaching and feedback but also understanding how they take their passion and experience and apply that to the strategies and commercial objectives we are helping deliver against. 

As a company, we have a strategic growth plan called the 2020 Growth Plan. We are always making sure our work connects to that strategy. 

What is one book you think business managers and leaders should read? 
While I love to read, I don’t have a specific management book to recommend. Where I really derive a lot of value is engaging on Twitter. I use it actively from a business perspective to track multiple sectors and folks. I get pretty much all my news there. I use it to track what is trending, where things are headed, what we should be paying attention to and what concerns are coming up. 

I love the continuous feed of news and trends, and I get a lot of value from that. There are a lot of farmers on Twitter, and I follow many of them. I’m starting to see farmers use it to talk more about what life is like on their farms and help to dispel myths about farming.

Diane Holdorf will speak Dec. 1 at the 2016 Executive Women in Agriculture conference in Chicago. For more information or to register, visit

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