Food execs won't give up fried chicken, steak

CHICAGO Tue Mar 16, 2010 7:30pm EDT

Sanderson Farms CEO Joe Sanderson speaks during the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago March 15, 2010. REUTERS/John Gress

Sanderson Farms CEO Joe Sanderson speaks during the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago March 15, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Like many Americans, top food industry executives say they try to eat healthy foods, but there are some treats they just won't give up.

Given their daily exposure to the ins and outs of the food industry, they are more aware than the average consumer of what too much fried foods and red meat can do to their arteries and cholesterol levels.

But piety has its limits, and even the most healthy-living of these executives said there are some foods they can't do without.

"I will not give up occasional fried chicken," Sanderson Farms (SAFM.O) Chief Executive Joe Sanderson said at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit this week. "I think it is good for the soul."

It is also good for the bottom line of the 4th largest U.S. chicken producer.

Others were also aware of where their bread is getting buttered.

"I don't think there's anything that I've given up. I'm a very meat and potatoes kind of a person," said Forrest Roberts of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Despite the trappings of the executive suite, many CEOs maintain the eating habits and tastes cultivated during childhood.

"I grew up on a farm. I love steak," said James Borel, an executive vice president overseeing chemicals maker DuPont's (DD.N) agriculture unit.

TEMPORARY SACRIFICE

Some are sacrificing favorite meals temporarily.

Kantar Retail Americas chief Ken Harris, a consultant to food makers and retailers, gave up pizza for Lent and was looking forward to the Holy Week in early April to break that fast.

He and other busy executives are active athletes who burn off calories preemptively or after their indulgence. Fertilizer maker CF Industries (CF.N) CEO Stephen Wilson said his devotion to running gave him leeway in his diet.

"One of the reasons I run is so that I can eat whatever I want," he said. He is also living on a low-sodium diet to manage blood pressure.

Some halfheartedly give up a favorite snack to obey their doctors.

Gustavo Valle, who heads French foodmaker Danone's (DANO.PA) U.S. yogurt business Dannon, is a cheese enthusiast, but had to give that up after a recent visit to the cardiologist.

Commodities expert Rich Feltes, a senior vice president at MF Global Research, said people should remove pizza and ice cream from their diets altogether as a concession to passing the 50-year-old mark. But he remains a faithful brownie eater.

Others remain defiant, hinting that their busy work schedules give them the right to eat what they want.

Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc (DPS.N) Chief Executive Larry Young bragged he slept only a few hours every night and worked seven days a week.

He likes to kick back with a martini every now and then and was loath to stop eating one of his favorite dishes: "24-ounce bone-in ribeye, charred medium-rare."

And on the side?

"Creamed spinach and a wedge with blue cheese dressing and bacon crumbles on it. Can you tell I'm from Texas?"

(Reporting by Phil Wahba; Editing by David Gregorio)

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