17 Conference Report #techonomy17

Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison on Food, Tech & Nutrition


Denise Morrison
President and CEO, Campbell Soup Company


Amanda Little
Professor - Journalism, Vanderbilt University

Session Description: Feed Me – Data-driven diets, lab-grown meat, plant-based proteins, personalized nutrition, genetic modification—the intersection of tech and nutrition will play a crucial role to feed the world. Will high-tech food lead to healthier humans?

An excerpt of the panel can be found below, with a full transcript available here.


Simone Ross: Okay, next up, Amanda Little is going to be interviewing Denise Morrison, the CEO of Campbell Soup Company. They’re spending a lot of time thinking about personalized nutrition and the intersection of tech and food and how to feed the world. So, if you guys are ready, come on up.

Amanda Little: What a pleasure it is to be here, with all of you and with Denise. I think I was telling you earlier that the brand that will define my childhood is probably Campbell’s and that brings me to my first question. The customer that I think about when I think about Campbell’s is my grandmother, of course, and all the great casseroles that she made and the tomato soup with grilled cheese that I ate. But that customer has changed a lot. I also think of Andy Warhol, there’s that. But who is your customer? How has your customer changing and what are the different concerns and tastes of your customer today?

Morrison: Well, actually, in addition to your grandmother, Campbell’s has products in 90 percent of households in America and so we have all different kinds of consumers and to your point, the consumer has changed dramatically. I call it the seismic shifts, whether it’s the demographic shift where we have two cohorts of baby boomers, 80 million strong, and millennials, 80 million strong, and millennials do nothing like their parents. They don’t shop like them. They don’t eat like them. They don’t connect like them. And so, today’s world, you have to be, you know, different things to different people. The other shift is consumer’s preferences for food. Consumers are seeking more health and well-being and the problem with that is that health and well-being means different things to different people. We have zeroed in on fresh, on functional, on organic, but there are numerous health definitions according to the consumer. And then the digital tsunami is upon us, we’ve seen it happen to books and apparel, and cosmetics. It is coming to food and digital is only 1 percent of food sales and e-commerce right now but we expect that that’s going to be a $66 billion-dollar business by 2021. And so it’s a real huge space. And then finally, what I call global economic realignment where in developed countries you have a shrinking middle class and in emerging markets you have a burgeoning middle class but with that shrinking middle class in countries like the United States, there’s a bifurcation of haves and have nots. And therefore, thinking about the food from the value proposition, the affordability, all the way up to higher-end benefits is a really important idea for food companies.

Little: So, let’s just break it down because you were telling me earlier about the percentage of your business that’s focused on what we think of, you know, condensed soups. This is to me Campbell’s, right? But Campbell’s is very different than that today. So, will you give me just a breakdown of your products and your areas of investment and then also a breakdown of your customers because how many of them are still like my grandmother and my mother?

Morrison: Yeah, well, first of all, Campbell’s is—you know, our core business is soup. It’s about 34 percent of our business now. But we have made five acquisitions in the last five years, moving more into fresh food with the acquisition of Bolthouse Farms, Garden Fresh Gourmet, and then we have a large and growing refrigerated soup business. So, our fresh food business is about a billion dollars. We’re also the second largest carrot grower in the United States. The other division that we have is global biscuits and snacks. So we have brands like Pepperidge Farm, Arnott’s out of Australia and into Asia, and Kelsen Group, which is a global brand. And then we have our large core business, soups, sauce, and beverage. So we have our soup business, we have Prego pasta sauce, Pace, Picante, and V8s. And so it’s a very diversified portfolio, but I would say that if you were to say, what is the one thing about Campbell’s, you know, we literally are very rich in vegetable and whole grains. So we serve 15 billion servings of vegetables per year to consumers and 2.4 million tons of whole grains. And that’s something that we’re building upon in the new products that we work with.

Little: Wow. So, a lot of incorporation of fresh and, of course, we know that—or I’ve heard that fresh purchases have been rising pretty dramatically in just the last five years or so. What about the customer breakdown, how much of your target audience is, let’s say, over 40?

Morrison: Well, it depends on the brand. You know, I think it’s safe to say that a product like condensed soup would over-index with baby boomers or V8 juice would over-index with baby boomers but then you have the other side of the spectrum, Plum Organics baby food is for millennial parents, Bolthouse Farms over-indexes with millennials. So, we have literally a product portfolio that services all different types of consumers and it’s really important just to understand the interaction of that brand with the target.

Little: So, the words, sort of, processed foods is one that we probably don’t understand.

Morrison: You mean cooked foods.

Little: Cooked foods. [laughs] So, processed foods is like a four-letter-word for some people and I read this New York Times piece, I think it was last month, about Brazil and Nestlé’s presence in Brazil and how processed foods were bringing, you know, all kinds of health problems to Brazil and obesity and so on. And that, essentially, this kind of trend in processed foods was part and parcel with a public health crisis. Can you comment on this? My understanding is that processed foods are also really improving in their health profile.

Morrison: I think the most important thing with—when you’re in the food business and you’re serving food to so many consumers, is safety. And it’s really, really important that you hold yourself to the highest standards of safety and that involves, in a lot of cases, cooking foods to temperatures that make that food safe.

The other thing, too, is when we looked at what do we stand for as a company, we articulated a company purpose, “Real food that matters for life’s moments,” and for us, no matter what food we serve, we want that to be real food. That means it has roots, it’s food that we’re proud to serve at our own tables, it’s prepared with care, and that transparency is the single most important ingredient in the recipe for trust. And we try very, very hard to be incredibly transparent and sometimes our company has actually gone against the grain in the food industry. For example, we took a position on labeling GMOs, we felt it was really important for consumers to know what’s in their food and that should be very easy for them to find out right on the label. And so we’ve done things like that to make sure that we’re being as transparent as possible about our food.

And we’ve taken a lot of steps, we’ve removed all artificial flavors and ingredients, all BPA from the can liners, we are adding functional benefits to the food in terms of proteins or probiotic, we’re doing a lot of work in that area right now. So, I think that—look, it’s a journey and we have been making those improvements and we’ve been trying to do that in a way that we keep the cost of the food very affordable because having real food that’s affordable and accessible to all people in income groups is really, really an important idea.

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