Campbell’s Morrison: ‘A new normal is coming to food’

by Keith Nunes
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Denise Morrison, president and chief executive officer of the Campbell Soup Co., described the C.P.G. marketplace as “tumultuous.”

CAMDEN, N.J. – Denise Morrison, the president and chief executive officer of the Campbell Soup Co., did not mince words July 21 in a presentation before financial analysts at the company’s annual investor day. She described the current market conditions facing the makers of consumer packaged goods as “tumultuous,” “persistently challenging” and “tough,” and she added “a new normal is coming to food.”

“The industry is in a period of major transition in which there will be winners and losers,” she said. “A new normal is coming to food. The winners will be the companies that adapt successfully to a changing world.”

In a wide ranging presentation to lead off the company’s investor day, Ms. Morrison attempted to set the scene for the investment community of what the Campbell Soup Co. and other C.P.G. manufacturers are facing. She noted lower and middle income consumers continue to struggle in the United States.

“The long-awaited rebound from the great recession has not brought them meaningful relief,” she said. “Financial anxiety has become a fixture in their lives and their food purchasing behavior reflects their caution and uncertainty about the future.”

She added persistent unemployment, reductions in public assistance and the rising costs of energy and healthcare all have contributed to the consumer’s focus on value. She said the value trend is here to stay and is fueling the growth of such value channels as dollar and club stores where food and beverage sales are growing at a higher rate than traditional grocery stores.

“A second is the profound transformation in consumer preferences and priorities with respect to food, a transformation that has been building for a number of years and now appears to be at or near a tipping point in terms of its impact on the industry,” Ms. Morrison said. “Consumers are clearly demanding greater transparency about their food. They want to understand how it is grown, produced and marketed. They want to know what ingredients are used in their food and where those ingredients come from.

“The insistence upon greater transparency is mounting, and it is part of what is driving the proposed changes in food labeling regulations and labeling requirements and the increasing contentious public discussion about genetically engineered ingredients.

“More broadly, consumers are holding manufacturers more accountable. They want to know where we stand on public policy issues that they are concerned about and what we stand for. There is no doubt in my mind the way food companies respond to these new expectations and the way Campbell responds will have a lasting impact on consumer's purchasing behavior and on their loyalty to our brands.”

Ms. Morrison said the changing demographics in the United States go beyond the traditional talking points that focus on millennials and the growth of the Hispanic population.

“At a more granular level, the level where we live, it is redefining the meaning of the family unit,” she said. “Today the American family is a rich mosaic that reflects increasing diversity, new economic realities and powerful social change. We are seeing the growth of adult-only and single person households, of single-parent households with children, of multi-generational families living under one roof, of multi-racial and multi-cultural households and of same-sex households. All of these families shop and eat but many of them shop and eat differently than the traditional family that has dominated the thinking of our business for so long.

“These new families are seeking foods and beverages that reflect and embrace their diversity and individual preferences. They are expecting food companies to offer a range of product sizes and price points that meet their specific economic needs and lifestyles. They want innovative packaging and value-added features. They also want more personalized approaches to creating and enjoying food and our industry must drive innovation and marketing that meets the requirements of these diverse families.”

Finally, she said, “the new frontier of e-commerce has come to food.”

“Ready or not our industry must do a much better job of leveraging this channel,” Ms. Morrison said. “E-commerce in the United States is expected to grow from more than $262 billion in sales last year to $440 billion by 2017. That is a compound annual growth rate of almost 14%, and purchases made with mobile devices are expected to grow even faster.

“But food companies and supermarket chains have lagged in adapting to this shift. According to market research or Kantar Worldpanel, food, beverages, and personal care products account for less than 4% of e-commerce sales. The industry will have no choice about embracing the on-line channel. On-line grocers such as Amazon Fresh and Peapod are changing the game, and supermarkets are entering the fray, slowly.

“One of our traditional grocery customers recently shared that his company experienced growth of more than 30% in its on-line ordering business versus brick and mortar growth of roughly 3%, and the average basket ring of its online shoppers was three times that of its traditional shopper.”

Ms. Morrison highlighted the current plight of retailers as adding to the troubles some C.P.G. manufacturers currently face, noting many retailers are being pressured by intensified competition driven by consolidation and the growth of new channels.

“Retailers have responded to soft consumption and center store categories by driving inventory rationalizations which have adversely affected food producers, and you know across the industry, promotional activity in retail stores has failed to generate the expected volume lifts. In this difficult environment, we are seeing continued consolidation in the packaged food industry, both retail and food service, as competitors seek synergies and the advantages of scale.”

Ms. Morrison described the challenge before the C.P.G. sector as “immense” and added consumers are thinking, shopping, spending and behaving differently than they have in the past.

“The packaged foods industry must adapt and adapt quickly to a new era,” she said. “We must open our eyes and our minds to entirely new ways of thinking about our business. Some of you think we simply can't do this; that we lack the mindset, agility and imagination to prosper in this world, but I know that Campbell will prove the skeptics wrong.”
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