Drink up Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2010
Finalist
Retail/Consumer Products

Today, Julie Smolyansky is the chief executive officer, president and director of Lifeway Foods Inc. She is one of the more powerful women in her industry. She is one of the more powerful women in her state. She has even been referred to as the “Dairy Queen” on magazine covers. But before Smolyansky grabbed the top spot at Lifeway Foods when she was 27, she was relegated to be little more than a guinea pig.

Her late father, Michael Smolyansky, founded the company in 1986, a little more than a decade after he emigrated from Russia with his wife and his infant daughter. He wanted to manufacture and distribute kefir, a yogurt drink popular in Russia but not then available commercially in the U.S. Who better than family to test new flavors and formulas? So Smolyansky gulped down glass after glass. Later, she traveled with her father to food shows across the nation.

Smolyansky was always involved with the company, but after Michael Smolyansky suffered a fatal heart attack in 2002, she was in charge and called the shots. During the eight years since, Lifeway Foods has stretched its reach from just the U.S. to nations around the world and has acquired several top competitors. Smolyansky plays an active role in all aspects of the company’s operation and development. In 2006, under her direct supervision, the company launched the ProBugs line of probiotic kefir for kids. the following year, Lifeway opened Starfruit Cafe, its first free-standing boutique. The company now has three locations with a fourth under development — and more to come via franchising. In 2008, the company introduced the world’s first line of probiotic kefir wellness bars that are now available in three flavors.

She has also helped launch an aggressive social media campaign that has increased Internet traffic and attention for its products. So, what’s next? Only time will tell, but you can bet Smolyansky will still be testing any new products.

How to reach: Lifeway Foods Inc., (877) 281-3874 or www.lifeway.net