FORT LORAMIE — One woman. That’s all it takes to empower another woman with the knowledge she can achieve anything she wants in either her career or personal life.
That was the common thread during the third “Growing Women in Agriculture,” and empowerment celebration held March 30 at St. Michaels Hall in Fort Loramie.
A crowd of multi-generational women listened as Shelly Thobe, a native of Mercer County, shared her story as a product innovator with Wendy’s International.
“The one thing we all have in common is our love of food,” said Thobe. “I couldn’t do my job without each and everyone of you.”
Thobe said her job required open thinking about what will bring people to Wendy’s for a meal. The company has 6,000 restaurants across the United States.
“Open thinking uses both sides of the brain,” she said. “You have to be analytic and also artsy and creative. What’s awesome about my job is I get to do both of these things.”
The analytic side — or that of a scientist — must determine how large the chickens will grow for Wendy’s to use the product on their menu. Or what type of oil blend should be used on a salad.
“I’m so fortunate to work for a large food service world,” Thobe said.
She said she and the other women who work for Wendy’s call themselves “The women of Wendy’s.
“We must empower other women,” said Thobe. “Have you shared your story with your daughter or your granddaughter?
“I’ve worked with a female vice president my entire career,” she shared. “When I came back to work from my first maternity leave, I had to use a bathroom to pump my milk. After my second maternity leave, I was in a closet.”
With her third pregnancy, Thobe brought photos of a lactation room to the company. She explained why it was important to have a refrigerator there to store the breast milk.
“My husband was on the team that was building them (lactation room). He told me ‘this has your name all over it.’ Today, we have three lactation rooms on campus,” said Thobe.
Thobe shared the amounts of product Wendy’s purchases each year, which is then served to its customers.
“We purchase 250 million pounds of beef every year,” said Thobe. “It’s all grown in North America and it’s fresh, never frozen.”
The company uses 2,5000 acres of lettuce from farms in California and Arizona. Cases of lettuce heads are delivered daily. The lettuce is soaked, chopped up and then used to build fresh salads just for the Wendy’s customers.
“I’ll give you a sneak peek of our newest salad — a fresh mozzarella chicken salad. We’re going to use 100,000 pounds of cheese from Wisconsin for the salads.”
Thobe said the chicken industry is growing its chickens bigger than it has in the past. Wendy’s, she said, has made a decision that they won’t purchase any chicken larger than 7 1/2 pounds.
“We have $30 million invested in chickens,” said Thobe. “We serve 250,000 million pounds of chicken each year. We use 125 million buns and 40 million pounds of tomatoes.”
A family favorite, she said, is getting a new look in May. The Frosty will have natural vanilla in it instead of artificial vanilla. The company uses 250 million pounds of milk each year in creating their Frosty drink.
“We are partners will industry leaders,” she said. “I’ve had the privilege of working with the best people. I’ve sat in meetings with corporate boards where they were all men but three women. We (women) have an opinion. You don’t have to think like a man to sit at the table.
“Everyone has an opinion at their job. We can have a voice at the table. I challenge each of you to teach someone else to have a voice. And then step back and see what they can accomplish,” said Thobe.
Thobe explained the process Wendy’s goes through when deciding to introduce a new item on the menu.
“We want to bring job to people everyday,” said Thobe. “We want to meet the consumer’s needs.”
Eating at Wendy’s, she said, can be a family bonding moment.
“We explore the food around us,” said Thobe. “I’ve flown all over the U.S. to try food. We want to discover what it is about an item that people love.
“We are immersing ourselves in food trends. We travel to wherever the food is,” she said. “We have to differentiate between the food being a trend or a fad.”
She showed a chart of how her team decides if a food should added to the menu.
“We are on a roller coaster everyday,” she said. “We have to decide what consumers want.”
They meet with consumers to discover what their needs are, she said. The company has something new to develop everyday.
“We may have 100 to 200 ideas in the screening process,” said Thobe. “Twenty-five percent make it to the next step.
Only 50 percent of those products make it to the test market, she said. And only 10 percent are actually launched in the restaurants.
“We absolutely love food,” she said.
Thobe encouraged each woman in attendance to work hard, have fun and make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.
“I truly have fun a work,” she said. “I work with an amazing team and we play in the kitchen all the time.”
Thobe said she also makes sure her children know where the food they eat comes from.
“When my son was at daycare, they hatched some baby chicks. He asked when they would be old enough for him to eat a leg,” shared Thobe. “A mother got upset with his comments. The teacher called and said ‘you buy chicken from the store.’”
Thobe left her audience with a closing thought.
“Be proud of who you are,” she said.”Help someone else to become a woman of the future. Everyone in this room has the power to do that.”
After Thobe’s presentation, four smaller sessions were held. Speakers were:
From Old to New with Mila Hamilton, Gallery 2Ten; Succession Planning by Kelly Moore with Wright & Moore Law Co; a cooking demo with Melanie Cedargren of Spicy Olive; and Farm Safety: Roles for Children by Morgan Aultman.
Sponsors of the event are Shelby County Farm Bureau, Shelby Soil and Water Conservation District, A.G.Boogher & Son, Leonard and Lou Ann Albers, Cargill, G.A. Wintzer & Son Co., Hubbard Feed Inc., Pioneer Electric Cooperative, TruCount CPA PC, Tony and Joyce Bornhorst, Buckeye Ford Lincoln, Fultz Flooring, McCrate, Delaet & Co. and PNC Bank.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.