- Campbell Soup named former Pinnacle Brands chief Mark Clouse as its new CEO. Clouse takes over from interim chief Keith McLoughlin who has been at the helm since long-time executive Denise Morrison left in May.
- Clouse, who previously worked at Pinnacle Foods, Mondelez International and Kraft, will start his new role on Jan. 22. Clouse will become the 14th CEO in the company's 150-year history.
- "We are confident that Mark is the right person to continue our turnaround plan and lead Campbell to future growth," Les Vinney, chairman of the board, said in a statement. "He brings a wealth of experience in the food industry, as well as a fresh perspective on the opportunities and challenges before us."
With Clouse taking over as CEO on Jan. 22, he will have no shortage of things to keep him busy. Campbell Soup has been mired in challenges as consumers turn away from processed items like canned soup, and it struggled to expand into areas such as fresh foods through acquisitions of Bolthouse Farms and Garden Fresh Gourmet. Currently, the company is in the process of divesting its fresh business and international operations to pay down debt, reduce costs and focus its attention on its U.S. snacks, soups and drinks operations.
In picking Clouse, Campbell Soup is appointing a seasoned executive with significant experience in the food space. Previously, he was CEO at Pinnacle Foods where he consistently grew or maintained market share in each of its top categories, delivered double-digit adjusted EPS growth and integrated the Boulder Brands acquisition, according to Campbell Soup. Pinnacle was sold to Conagra Brands in October for $10.9 billion. Before Pinnacle, he worked at Mondelez International and Kraft.
This experience will prove useful in helping Clouse navigate the rapidly changing food space by limiting the learning curve he will face at Campbell Soup. In addition, he presumably has been in talks with the soup maker for weeks about taking the role — The Wall Street Journal first reported he was the top choice to be the next CEO last month — so Clouse likely has had time to familiarize himself with the company before formally taking over.
Campbell Soup offered a glimmer of hope that it's righting its operations during its most recent earnings report. Executives said they are starting to see "improved trends" in U.S. soup, a return to sales growth in V8 and "continued solid performance" in Campbell Snacks.
"I am committed to delivering Campbell's strategic objectives and look forward to partnering with the board and working alongside the company’s many talented employees to deliver sustainable, long-term growth," Clouse said in a statement.
But Campbell Soup's challenges, both internally and outside the company, show no sign of abating. The company, which has come under fire for struggling to integrate its fresh operations following executional missteps and weather challenges, will be closely watched to see how it is doing with its newly bulked-up snack business following the $4.9 billion acquisition of Snyder's-Lance.
Clouse will likely be given plenty of leeway to streamline the business and integrate Snyder's-Lance, but his work will be under scrutiny by activist investor Daniel Loeb. The head of Third Point reached a deal with the soup maker in November to appoint two members to the company's now 14-member board and have input in picking the new CEO, as well as get an opportunity to present at two meetings of the board and two meetings with Campbell's CEO next year.
In a statement, Campbell Soup said Third Point "provided constructive input" into the CEO search and "fully supports" the board's decision to select Clouse.
Loeb agreed to a standstill agreement for a year, giving Campbell Soup and Clouse time to turn around its business before he can launch another proxy battle. But Third Point will be watching. If Campbell Soup hasn't made progress that suits him, it's possible Loeb could purchase more shares and increase pressure on the company to sell additional assets, split the business or sell itself. It's also possible that another activist could join the fray, turning up the heat on Campbell's Soup.
Clouse appears to be the right choice to oversee the beleaguered 150-year old company, but his appointment next month will mark a pivotal turning point in dictating the future of the iconic company — including potentially whether Campbell Soup can remain a standalone entity.