- Carlos Abrams-Rivera will be Kraft Heinz's new U.S. zone president as of Feb. 3, the company announced. In this role, Abrams-Rivera will lead all business operations in the United States, which is the mega-company's largest business area.
- Abrams-Rivera comes to Kraft Heinz from Campbell Soup, where he has spent five years. He most recently served as president of Campbell Snacks, a division the company created in 2018 as it expanded further into the snacking realm with the acquisition of Snyder's-Lance.
- In a release announcing Abrams-Rivera's hiring, Kraft Heinz CEO Miguel Patricio said this position is an "enormously important role. I have every confidence that Carlos is the visionary leader we need to drive the U.S. business forward at this moment of transformation," he said. "Carlos has successfully implemented a strategic approach to reinvigorating brands and has a strong track record of growing businesses with a consumer-first focus to consistently drive strong business results."
Abrams-Rivera's hiring is a huge win for Kraft Heinz — and a huge loss for Campbell Soup.
The role of U.S. zone president at Kraft Heinz has gone unfilled since Patricio took the helm of the company in July, and it's a role he's been filling himself as he has tried to turn the company around. With Abrams-Rivera, Kraft Heinz has found someone who's an experienced change agent, as well as someone with deep experience at Kraft Heinz.
At Campbell Soup, Abrams-Rivera started out as president of Pepperidge Farm, its long-held snacking division that makes brands including Goldfish crackers and Milano cookies. He helped innovate the iconic crackers, adding new flavors and varieties and holding the line on the brand's profitability.
Abrams-Rivera was a natural choice to be the New Jersey company's first head of its snacks division, a position created following Campbell Soup's $4.9 billion purchase of snacks giant Snyder's-Lance in 2017. Prior to this acquisition, snacks made up just under a third of the company's sales. Afterward, snacks were responsible for nearly half of sales. In the release from Campbell Soup announcing Abrams-Rivera's departure, the company said it is the nation's No. 3 snacks company.
"We want to continue to rewrite the story of Campbell and now are going to know that we can do that with a real center-of-the store expertise in snacking," Abrams-Rivera told Food Dive a few months after the acquisition. "It's a huge transformation when you think about Campbell's being almost a 150-year-old company, then all of a sudden it's going to pivot to where the center of this company is going."
Abrams-Rivera was a capable leader of that transition, bringing the company solid growth in snacks while other segments saw difficulties. In the company's most recent earnings report, sales in snacks were worth $1 billion with a 2% growth rate, while overall company sales declined 1%. According to a transcript of the investor call the day of the report, Campbell Soup CEO Mark Clouse said snacks consumption overall grew 4% in the quarter, while the company's "power brands" — Goldfish, Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse, Milano, Kettle, Cape Cod, Lance, Snyder's of Hanover, Late July and Pretzel Crisps — grew 6%.
As snacks helped stabilize Campbell Soup's balance sheet and financial prospects, perspectives on the company's long-term outlook have shifted as well. Earlier this week, activist investor Daniel Loeb's Third Point LLC sold many of its shares in the company, according to regulatory filings. In summer 2018, the investment firm took a 7% stake in the company, leaving analysts to wonder what changes Loeb and his firm would try to make. With this week's sale, Third Point's stake scales back to 4.4%.
At Kraft Heinz, Patricio is going to need a dedicated and skilled C-suite behind him if he's going to make 2020 a comeback year for the iconic company. Almost all of 2019 was full of bad business news. In February, the company had a $15.4 billion write down on the value of its Kraft and Oscar Mayer brands and disclosed an investigation into procurement accounting and control policies by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Kraft Heinz's stock price immediately tumbled 28%, and the company has been trying to climb out of that hole ever since.
Patricio, who was named CEO of Kraft Heinz in April, has prioritized growing the company's iconic brands through understanding consumers, improving efficiency and creating more premium value for consumers. In its most recent earnings call in October, Patricio said Kraft Heinz is getting on the right path, but it still has a way to go.
Although Kraft Heinz is known for doing most of its upper-level hiring internally, Abrams-Rivera is not a stranger to the company. He began his career at the former Kraft Foods, working from 1998 to 2012 in various roles. He led the development of brands in the cheese, enhancers, frozen pizza and Oscar Mayer businesses, the release from Kraft Heinz said. He also had executive roles, including senior vice president of marketing and strategy for developing markets, vice president of Nabisco savory snacks and vice president of global biscuits brands.
When Mondelez spun off from Kraft in 2012, Abrams-Rivera stayed with the snacking brands. Under Mondelez, where he worked until 2015, he had positions including president of gum and candy for Latin America, senior vice president for global beverages and senior vice president of marketing and strategy for developing markets.
As Kraft Heinz works toward staying relevant through research and development, launching new products under iconic brands, and optimizing its supply chain, there is a lot it needs to do in order to get back to its peak. Patricio has repeatedly promised that a comprehensive plan to right the company will be presented in the first months of this year. Improving performance in the U.S. is vital to Kraft Heinz's success, and it's apparent Abrams-Rivera is a key part of Patricio's plan.