IW 50 Profile: Campbell Soup Cooking Up a New Recipe?

IW 50 Profile: Campbell Soup Cooking Up a New Recipe?

CEO-in-waiting seeks to infuse new energy into iconic brands.

In July, Denise Morrison will take over as CEO of Campbell Soup Co. with the task of trying to reinvigorate sluggish sales in the company's soups category. The current executive vice president and COO says Camden, N.J.-based Campbell plans to grow its brands through a combination of more healthy food and beverage offerings, global expansion and the use of technology to woo younger consumers.

While "innovation" isn't a term typically associated with the food-processing industry, Morrison says it's key to the company's future success. As an example, she cites Campbell's development of an iPhone application that provides consumers with its Campbell Kitchen recipes. The company's marketing team devised the plan as a way to appeal to technologically savvy, millennial-generation consumers, Morrison says.

Campbell also continues its push toward healthier products by offering more reduced-sodium soups and more flavor varieties for its V8 juices, Morrison says. But the expanded product lines and promotional activities haven't energized sales for all segments the way the company had expected. Campbell cut its annual sales forecast in November because promotional spending did not result in anticipated soup volume gains, current President and CEO Douglas Conant said. U.S. soup sales in the first quarter declined 5%.

The weak soup sales were somewhat surprising as more consumers sought affordable stay-at-home options during the recession, says Edward Jones analyst Jack Russo. "There's a strong value proposition in soups," Russo says. "People are eating more meals at home and trying not to spend as much, but the category has been weak now for three winters in a row, and I really don't have an answer as to why that is. I'm not sure they do, either."

Morrison will succeed Conant when he retires on July 31. Morrison joined Campbell Soup in 2003 and served as president of the company's North America soup, sauces and beverages division before taking over as COO in September. In her new role, Morrison says she plans to "accelerate the rate of innovation" at the company.

Future Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison plans to "accelerate the rate of innovation" at the company.
In the meantime, Morrison says she's busy connecting with leaders in the company's other business segments, such as the Pepperidge Farm snacks division. That should flow rather seamlessly, according to Campbell's Chief Strategy Officer Irene Chang-Britt, who has worked with Morrison for nearly 10 years, first at Kraft and now at Campbell.

"Denise is a team builder. Always has been," said Chang-Britt in an e-mail. "What makes Denise an effective leader and what will serve her well as COO and eventually CEO is that she puts the right people in the right positions, challenges them and then trusts them to deliver."

Morrison says she's a believer in cross-functional teamwork. That philosophy extends to the plant floor, where Morrison says productivity is the key to fueling future growth. Each plant has "direction-setting" teams that involve representatives from various plant functions, including hourly employees and management. "These teams, in a very disciplined way, spend time every day and have a collaborative forum to come up with the best ideas to address any issues or opportunities," Morrison says.

The plants also are active in benchmarking initiatives with other operations from various industries, Morrison says. For example, the company looks to DuPont for safety best practices and Procter & Gamble for total delivered cost, says Morrison, who worked for nine years in a plant during the 1980s at Nestle USA.

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