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Campbell Soup CEO Stirs the Pot, Ladles Out Change

Posted by Dale Buss on October 5, 2012 01:12 PM

When companies age, they turn to innovation as the way to get their corporate blood pumping again. That's clearly the case with the Campbell Soup company, which has come out with a variety of new soup products, broadened its product lineup under the V8 brand, and taken other innovative steps since Denise Morrison became CEO about a year ago. But it's still been a rough ride as she seeks to turnaround the company's financial results — she's closing two factories due to "excess capacity" and laying off 700 workers in an attempt to "improve supply chain productivity."

Morrison told a group this week that there's been a definite method to her approach, including using "disciplined creativity" based on studying the successes of other innovative firms, and a team-based product-development philosophy that she learned in part from firms in Silicon Valley.

The CEO has emphasized the idea that Campbell's employees work for the consumer, not her or even the company. "If everyone ... gets up every day and says that, they will operate totally differently," she told a California gathering, according to Ad Age. "Because then they'll start to say, is what I'm doing at this moment, this day, really going to make a difference for the consumer? And if it isn't, don't do it."

Among recent activities that Morrison believes will "make a difference" to the consumer are the debuts of a stream of new products that break away from the iconic can many American grew up with: a new line of boxed soups and epicurean offerings such as gourmet bisque soup; Campbell's Go! Soup line of microwavable soups, packaged in pouches and "inspired by food trucks"; Campbell's Skillet Sauces; Jingos!, a new cracker brand from Pepperidge Farm; a line of crustless bread; and an web-only line of Goldfish crackers that could be customized with messages for, say, children's birthday parties.

Morrison is pursuing millennials more actively, attempting to get them to take another look at soup and other Campbell's products, including the recently purchased Bolthouse Farms and its line of better-for-you juices. One area that may resonate with millennials: a corporate citizenship program that has landed the company on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes for the fourth consecutive year.

At least one analyst is maintaining a "neutral" view on the company while Morrison stirs the pot:

We believe that Campbell's prudent investment and strategic initiatives toward product innovation and brand building will lead to an increase in its customer base and profitability. Moreover, the company's continuous focus on research and development to further differentiate its higher-margin sauces brands will strengthen its competitive position in the international market. On the flip side, rising commodity costs, intense competition from other established players and exposure to unfavorable foreign currency fluctuations may undermine the company's growth prospects.

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