Key development: Sales of condensed soups up 6% through the fiscal 2005 third quarter.
What's next: Expanding gravity-fed shelving to other soups.
Any discussion of innovation in Center Store has to include Campbell Soup Co.
The Camden, N.J.-based manufacturer has in recent years invigorated the soup category with such merchandising solutions as the iQ Shelf Maximizer, a gravity-feeding shelf-display system for condensed soups now in about 14,000 retail locations, and new product launches like Soup at Hand and Supper Bake meal kits.
Those developments and others introduced under the leadership of Douglas Conant, president and chief executive officer, such as a renewed focus on healthful products, all have one thing in common: They were designed with the end user in mind.
"I think the biggest impact Conant has had has been to get the company refocused on the consumer," said John Stanton, who worked for Campbell Soup before joining St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia, as a professor of food marketing. "Campbell Soup had a long tradition of being consumer-focused, and Doug is bringing it back."
Conant had a history of success in the consumer-packaged-goods industry before joining Campbell Soup as president and CEO in January 2001. He began his career in 1976 in a marketing post at General Mills after obtaining his MBA from the J.L. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The Chicago native later spent six years in top marketing and strategy posts at Kraft Foods, and from 1995 to 2000, he was president of Nabisco Foods Co.
At Nabisco, he launched the SnackWells line of better-for-you snacks and revamped some of the company's leading brands, including Planters and LifeSavers.
He will need to call on some of that experience to meet the challenges he faces at Campbell Soup, which has been losing market share to rivals in some soup categories, according to analysts. In addition to attempting to revive the core Campbell-brand soup lines with merchandising innovations like the gravity-fed shelf system -- which is being expanded to more soup varieties -- new products, and commercials featuring National Football League stars and their families, Conant is focusing the company's energies on its other brands. Campbell generated more than $7 billion in sales last year from 20 different brands, including Pepperidge Farm, Godiva, Swanson, Pace and Prego.
"Campbell views itself as more than just a soup company," said John McMillin, analyst, Prudential Equity Group, New York, in a recent report on the company. "Rather, Campbell sees its opportunity as being within the simple-meals category, competing with a host of quick, convenient alternatives available to the consumer."
McMillin described Conant, who was not available for an interview for this article, as being "always optimistic" about the company's prospects for growth.
In a prepared statement, Conant said "employee engagement" is critical to the company's culture of innovation. He seeks to drive that engagement through a program called "Winning in the Workplace."
"As part of this effort, we have focused on building trust throughout our organization," he said. "As trust has grown, creativity and innovation have begun to flourish. Most importantly, I believe the best is yet to come."
Denise Morrison, president of global sales and chief customer officer, Campbell Soup, told SN that Conant "has integrated the concept of winning in the marketplace and winning in the workplace."
"He has set a clear direction for the company that leverages our powerful brands and talented people to drive quality growth. We are building a culture at Campbell's of engaged associates, unleashing our innovation potential."
She also pointed out his community involvement in the areas of nutrition, education and hunger. "His personal commitment to leading with integrity is very visible," Morrison said.
Bill Bishop, president, Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill., described Conant as the "consummate professional executive."
"What he has done is to focus Campbell sharply against opportunities that hold a lot of potential," he said.
Conant himself has said he had nostalgic memories of the Campbell Soup brand.
"Campbell Soup is the ultimate food you remember from when you were a kid," he said in an interview with Kellogg World Alumni Magazine in 2001. "We were all Campbell's kids at one time."