- Activist investor Daniel Loeb has taken a stake of more than $300 million in Campbell Soup, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- The business publication said it was uncertain how large of a position Loeb, who oversees the hedge fund, has taken in the food manufacturer. It said Third Point filed for antitrust clearance, a necessary step if it wants to "increase its stake and get involved with business decisions at Campbell." The paper said Third Point has spoken with interim CEO Keith McLoughlin about changes Campbell Soup could make.
- A Third Point spokesperson told Food Dive that the hedge fund declined to comment, citing a company policy not to address a rumor, and said "there is no public record of any holding" when it comes to Campbell Soup.
Loeb has been an active player in the food space, most notably criticizing Nestlé for not moving fast enough to improve its operations. While some analysts have questioned the impact Loeb can have on Nestlé — which has been overhauling its business during the last year to jettison slower-growing areas such as its U.S confectionery business while focusing on trendier spaces like coffee, pet care, infant nutrition and bottled water — beleaguered Campbell Soup could be a company where his influence could be more impactful.
Tom Hushen, a Campbell Soup spokesperson, said the company does not comment on rumors or speculation around trading activity in its stock.
"We maintain an open, engaged dialogue with all of our shareholders, and welcome all investments in our company," he told Food Dive in an email.
While it is uncertain exactly what Loeb plans to do with Campbell Soup, his involvement comes at a time when the 150-year old company is mired in challenges as consumers turn away from processed foods and the New Jersey company struggles to integrate deals like Bolthouse Farms as part of its push to expand into fresher offerings. In May, Campbell Soup announced CEO Denise Morrison was stepping down after seven years at the helm, and the company is undergoing a strategic review of its portfolio, which is expected to be completed this month.
As part of its strategic view, McLoughlin told analysts in May the company could ultimately decide to sell some of its brands.
“We must take a fresh look at our strategy, at our operations and our portfolio, and do so with urgency,” he said. “We will undergo a thorough and critical review of all aspects of our strategic and operating plans, including the composition of our entire portfolio. … Everything is on the table. There are not sacred cows.”
It's possible Loeb could push for Campbell Soup to sell itself or spin off its iconic soup or fresh business, while retaining its snack operations — all options that have been speculated on since the review was announced two months ago. An outright sale would likely need support from company insiders. The Wall Street Journal estimated that a group of insider shareholders, including the Campbell Trust and three descendants of the company’s founder who are board members, control about 42% of soup maker's shares.
Still, Loeb's involvement increases the likelihood that Campbell Soup has no choice but make a more meaningful change when it concludes its strategic review. A failure to act or a decision to implement moves that don't go far enough would probably push Loeb to increase pressure on Campbell Soup, especially if the company's shares, which have traded up in recent weeks during the review, decline following the announcement.