Trouble at Mondelez? Head of North American business announces exit

Dive Brief:

  • Roberto Marques, president of Mondelez International’s North America business, announced he will be leaving the company, according to Food Business News. Tim Cofer, Mondelez’s chief growth officer, will fill Marques’ position until a successor can be found.
  • As the leader of Mondelez’s North America business, Marques helped the company advance its e-commerce strategy and better-for-you offerings. North America remains the second-largest sales region for Mondelez, with nearly $7 billion in sales last year.
  • “Under Roberto Marques’ leadership, the North American team has been executing a large transformation, which has resulted in significant progress on our margin agenda, while stepping up our participation in growth areas such as well-being, broader channel penetration, especially in e-commerce, as well as entering the U.S. chocolate market,” Chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld said in a statement.

Dive Insight:

Roberto Marques’ departure follows in the wake of news that Mondelez is currently searching for a replacement for longtime CEO Irene Rosenfeld. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the company had retained an executive recruiter to seek a replacement for Rosenfeld, who has led Mondelez since 2006 and will reportedly set the timetable for her exit. Mondelez has also lost several key executives in the last year, including several media and marketing executives and its chief commercial officer

For its part, Mondelez dismissed speculation that the search for a new CEO and the departure of Marques are related. "Today's announcement ... has nothing to do with any other potential succession planning or market speculation," Mondelez spokesman Michael Mitchell told the Chicago Tribune. "We're looking forward to recruiting a permanent successor to help us step up our performance on both the top and bottom lines, as we unlock the full potential of Mondelez International in the U.S. and Canada."

Regardless, the departure of Marques as well as the search for a new CEO come as troubling signs for the company. The maker of Oreo cookies, Trident gum and belVita breakfast biscuits has struggled as center store sales have stagnated and consumers have gravitated toward better-for-you options. The manufacturer, which has a wide-ranging international presence, has also had a difficult time developing emerging markets.

Revenue tumbled 12% in 2016, leading activist investors Nelson Peltz and William Ackman to push the company toward improving its profit margins. This seemed to be a leading initiative for Marques prior to his announced departure, and will no doubt be a top priority for whoever ends up replacing him long-term. The company’s next North America president, along with Rosenfeld’s eventual replacement, will also need to keep the momentum going on e-commerce sales, which are driving interest in the company’s power brands like Oreo. Mondelez’s health initiatives, like reducing sodium and saturated fat in its snacks, will also be a top priority. 

Focusing on top brands, cutting costs and e-commerce innovations is a solid growth strategy, and the company will need solid, experienced leaders to carry it out. Otherwise, Mondelez could face a sale to Kraft Heinz — a deal that, according to insiders, it doesn’t want to make.

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Filed Under: Manufacturing Corporate