Power. It can take years to grow. And be stripped away in a flash. Just ask the money men. Eight of the 10 who appeared in our list last year are now absent, nobbled by the economic shift.
The 'big swinging dicks' that filled last year's rankings have been rendered impotent without the cheap credit they could once so easily lay their hands on. And Robert Tchenguiz, who topped the billing in 2007, barely makes the cut, having lost more than £500m on various property-based bets.
Or ask Robert Schofield, last year's top supplier, about the transitory nature of power. A year ago analysts were congratulating Schofield for Premier Foods' £1.2bn purchase of RHM, making him boss of the biggest UK food and drink supplier. But soaring commodity prices, allied to RHM's apparently lackadaisical attitude to forward contracts, have undermined any cost savings identified in the purchase, and the share price is a third of last year's high.
In total, half the 60 names on our Power List are new entries. And for some this has involved a significant reversal of fortunes.
Take Todd Stitzer, the CEO of Cadbury plc. A year ago, the agenda of the old Cadbury Schweppes was arguably set by Nelson Peltz, a US investor who agitated that the structure of the soft drinks and confectionery company wasn't delivering value. Twelve months on, and Stitzer is back in the driving seat. Despite difficulties in divesting the US-based soft drinks business due to turbulent financial markets, the two businesses have been split. This has left Stitzer in charge of a global confectionery company that is coherent in its growth strategy - as evidenced by the success of Trident's launch in the UK - and shorn of a lot of overwieldy corporate baggage including, from this month, its Berkeley Square HQ.
Of course, some things don't change. Sir Terry Leahy is still top of the pile-it-high brigade, and our list of multiple retailers contains many familiar faces, although not necessarily in the same order. And even here, at the top of the food chain, it is arguable that the turbulent retail and commodity conditions are proving a challenge.
The Competition Commission has been broadly favourable to the big supermarkets, but like-for-likes look like being much more challenging in the future. The hard discounters are growing more aggressive, while Sir Terry has experienced rare criticism over the US launch of Fresh & Easy.
Even in these credit-crunching times, however, there are opportunities for those shrewd enough - or brave enough - to seize them.
The Co-operative Group's CEO Peter Marks is a great example. He appears here in two of our lists, retaining his number one spot in the c-stores list, but also features prominently in the list of multiple retailers - at number two - as he looks to buy the Somerfield estate from a Tchenguiz-backed private equity consortium. The only bidder, he's sure to ask for a competitive price.
The list of wholesalers is not without incident, either. Booker CEO Charles Wilson is again at number one, but at arch-rival Palmer & Harvey, Chris Etherington has had a busy year, leading an MBO, making acquisitions and realigning the business along more retail-friendly lines, and rightly rises four places. He is joined on the list by, among others, Frank McKay at Brakes, whom all eyes in wholesaling will be watching after an eye-watering £1bn refinancing deal.
Our list of influencers includes a few surprises, not least in Will Cavendish, the new director of health and wellbeing at the Department of Health, who takes top spot on the list. A civil servant, he developed the new anti-obesity strategy at the behest of Number 10, and is working tirelessly to ensure that this department takes a clear lead to create a cohesive, holistic approach.
But the list that holds the most new entries is our Money Men. The mega buyout firms that dominated last year's rankings are gone.
To be in this year's list, financiers needed more than a war chest of institutional money and a cursory understanding of the food business. They needed the confidence and expertise to make money work in even the toughest of markets.
With the credit tap turned off, the ability of the Money Men to attempt to buy a major grocery chain over the next 12 months is very low. The interesting deals are likely to be in smaller, niche businesses.
"I'm not seeing a lot of activity in the UK food sector over the next 12 to 18 months," says our top Money Man Lyndon Lea, co-founder of private equity house Lion Capital. "You will continue to see smaller divestitures, but we are talking about £100m deals at the top end."
Such deals are likely to come from sellers who need to get their houses in order. Companies such as Unilever and Premier Foods, which may have to restructure in order to pay off debt, or Grampian, which is in the middle of a sale to Vion.
And the new wave of food and raw material price inflation may also offer opportunities.
"With supermarkets going through a round of cost-consciousness and driving prices down as ingredient costs rise, that vacates interesting areas for new premium brands," says Oliver Wyncoll of mid-market buyout group Langholm Capital. "This means innovative companies are popping up to exploit the opportunities created by value being driven out of categories.
"Retailers are keen to see new companies creating brands, and would rather small companies experiment on their behalf."
Given big increases in input costs and price hikes, the other Money Men that are likely to make an impact over the coming year are the mainstream lending bankers as companies run the risk of breaching covenants and defaulting on their debt repayments.
But where there are challenges, the bold see opportunity. And this year's bold include three mega buyout investors who make the list by virtue of their holdings or their track record in the food industry.
These are not the usual suspects and none of these lists are cast from the normal mould. The names on it are of men who, through their expertise, experience and sense of opportunity, are in place to gain most from the circumstances the industry finds itself in.