Steve Oakland has been named CEO and president of TreeHouse Foods starting March 26. He joined the board of the Illinois-based CPG company on March 2, TreeHouse announced Monday.
Oakland is coming from The J.M. Smucker Co., where he was vice chair and president of U.S. food and beverage, a $5-billion business. He was in charge of retail coffee, consumer foods, natural foods, U.S. retail sales and marketing services for Smucker, TreeHouse said.
Sam Reed, TreeHouse's current chairman, president and CEO, will be non-executive chairman of the board until July, when he will retire from the company. After that, he will serve in a non-executive advisory capacity assisting Oakland through the remainder of this year.
Oakland has a big challenge ahead to turn things around for TreeHouse. The private-label manufacturer lowered net sales expectations for 2018 to about $5.9 billion to $6.1 billion from approximately $6.3 billion in 2017. The company also anticipates 2018 earnings per fully diluted share between $2 and $2.40 due to volatile commodity pricing and persistent growth-limiting conditions. Reed said recently it was imperative to build a more effective and efficient foundation for private-label customer engagement.
Reed also predicted that this year would be a transitional one for TreeHouse, which experienced tough times last year after former Chairman Robert Aiken suddenly departed after just a few months on the job. TreeHouse also lowered its guidance at least twice last year while shuttering some manufacturing facilities. It announced in February it would close a pretzel and snack plant in Visalia, California, by the end of the first quarter of 2019, impacting nearly 300 workers.
Oakland will have to figure out a way to bolster the private-label business, where sales have been struggling. This has occurred in spite of growing consumer acceptance of these products once seen as inferior to rival name brands. His experience with retail sales and marketing services at Smucker should be welcome assets for TreeHouse in understanding the marketplace and changing consumer trends and preferences. Prior to his assuming the role of vice chairman and president at Smucker, he worked on divisions overseeing brands such as Jif and Hungry Jack.
"Steve brings to TreeHouse a wealth of experience moving quickly to assimilate and integrate complex businesses, designing highly effective organizations and improving the growth and profitability of acquired companies," said Dennis O'Brien, lead independent director of the board of directors at TreeHouse Foods. "His leadership principles and practices are the right fit for TreeHouse and will serve him well as a catalyst to drive revenue growth, supply chain optimization and organizational effectiveness."
It may be that TreeHouse hasn't completely integrated its previous M&A actions, and, as Reed said, it needs to do a better job with private-label customer engagement. Those will undoubtedly be Oakland's main focus for the rest of this year as he assumes his dual positions later this month. While Oakland's success at the beleaguered company is far from guaranteed, his prior experience and knowledge at least place him in a position where he has a good chance to succeed.