After Campbell Soup misses revenue goals, sale rumors swirl

The Campbell's Soup plant off South 11th Street in Camden. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Campbell's Soup plant off South 11th Street in Camden. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Those white and carnelian red cans of Campbell Soup may be going up for sale — and not just to grocery shoppers.

According to a recent report in the New York Post, Kraft Heinz is interested in purchasing the Camden-based food company.

The report, which surprised some and caused Campbell’s stock to rise, comes at an uncertain time for the company.

In May, former president and CEO Denise Morrison retired. A day later, during its regular earnings call, company executives announced they had missed their revenue goals for the quarter.

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Interim CEO Keith McLoughlin also announced that Campbell Soup was conducting a review of its strategic and operating plans, as well as an examination of its entire portfolio of products.

“Everything is on the table,” McLoughlin said, according to a transcript. “There are no sacred cows.”

A spokesman for Campbell Soup said the company does not comment on “rumors and speculation.” Kraft Heinz declined to comment.

Over the last decade, Campbell Soup has been trying to shift its primary focus from the “soup space” toward faster-growing, more popular items such as snacks, according to Erin Lash, a research director at Morningstar.

Earlier this year, Campbell acquired Snyder’s-Lance, a snack food company with brands including Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels, Lance crackers, Pop-Secret popcorn, and Kettle chips.

Snacks are becoming more popular. And consumers looking to sate a meal-sized hunger no longer have to resort to a can of soup, Lash said. “You can buy mac-and-cheese or frozen pizza or a host of other alternatives.”

Whether the nearly 150-year-old company would agree to a sale is another question.

According to Morningstar, 40 percent of its outstanding shares are owned by descendants of John Dorrance, who took control of the company after inventing the method of condensing soup. Two Dorrance family members also sit on the 12-member board. For those reasons, Lash guessed the company would try to maintain control.

On the other hand, a sale could increase the stock price for Campbell Soup shareholders and act as a “stepping stone” to a larger deal for Kraft Heinz, according to Ken Goldman, a researcher at J.P. Morgan.

Goldman also noted that Berkshire Hathaway, owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffet, and Brazilian investment firm 3G — which together own a controlling stake in Kraft Heinz — “love brands.” (And they might be hard-pressed to find a more recognizable brand than the iconic tomato soup can made famous by pop artist Andy Warhol.)

Campbell Soup said it would announce the results of its strategic review during its August earnings call.

This disclosure: The late Dorrance Hamilton was a significant donor to WHYY.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Campbell Soup’s former president and CEO Denise Morrison retired.

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