View from the C-Suite: Campbell's Doug Conant and Denise Morrison

View from the C-Suite

View from the C-Suite: Campbell's Doug Conant and Denise Morrison

Based in Camden, New Jersey, Campbell's Soup Company is a global manufacturer of over leading convenience food brands, including "Campbell's Soups" "Pepperidge Farm," "Arnott's," and "V8." The company holds the #1 or #2 position in each food category in which it operates. Over 94 percent of U.S. households have at least one Campbell product. The average U.S. household has approximately 9 cans of Campbell's Soup in their pantry -- most likely chicken noodle, cream of mushroom or tomato.

Joseph Campbell and Abraham Anderson founded Campbell in 1869, but it was John Dorrance, a young chemist, who is brought the company a "breakthrough technology" in 1897: condensed soup. Since then, Campbell has become a $7.7 billion Fortune 500 corporation that employs more than 18,000 and markets products in over 120 countries. In 2011, Corporate Responsibility magazine ranked Campbell #2 on its list of 100 Top Corporate Citizens.

In July 2011, CEO Doug Conant will hand the reins to Denise Morrison. Heather King spoke with both the outgoing and incoming Campbell CEOs about the legacy of sustainability in the food and beverage industry, their work with UC Davis on farming innovations, and how "Millennials" are shifting Campbell's focus. Campbell recently traded in its old slogan, "M'm! M'm! Good!" for "Nourishing lives everywhere, everyday" -- a shift from a focus on flavor to a broader focus on nurturing and sustaining.

Conant and MorrisonDoug Conant: Let me first provide context around the food industry and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Most of the companies in our peer group are 100 to 150 years old. We are deeply embedded in our local communities and connected to the earth by virtue of the way we harvest our products and feed families.

The Boston College Center for Citizenship reports that four of the top 10 U.S. CSR leaders are food and beverage companies. No other sector has more than one. This is the fourth food company with which I've been associated. General Mills, Kraft, Nabisco and Campbell's all have deep roots in CSR and sustainability.

Heather King: Does this mean that Campbell's commitment to sustainability is coming primarily from your family farm partners and/or industry peers?

Denise Morrison: Our consumers and, in fact, our employees are very much part of our business case for sustainability. The millennial generation [age 18 to 29 approximately], which comprises about 80 million consumers, has heightened expectations with regard to sustainability. As we look to connect with this generation, we must be mindful that sustainability will be one of the key reasons they'll purchase our products and a key reason they'll choose to work at Campbell's.

DC: I second the importance of our employees. If we want to attract, develop and retain world-class talent in this organization, we have to create a platform where people can live their values 24/7. When I started 35 years ago, we would work 9 to 5 or longer. We might help run a recycling program on a weekend. That doesn't work with today's workforce. They want to be part of building a better world every day. One of the most visited areas of our website for recruits is our corporate responsibility page, and it's one of the hottest areas of discussion in interviews.

HK: You cited your connection with agricultural land as central to the industry's tradition of environmental stewardship. Tell us what you are doing to advance sustainable farming especially given Campbell's longstanding relationship with so many family-based operations.

DC: We are very focused on improving the productivity of our farm crops. Since the 1980's, we have worked on ways to manage pesticides, improve yields, and lower costs. Over the next decade, we are cutting the environmental footprint of our product portfolio in half.

Our focus includes all-around water use and CO2 emissions per ton of product produced. For example, we are building a 60-acre solar field adjacent to our soup plant in Napoleon, Ohio. It will be the largest net-metered facility at a manufacturing site in the U.S. We reuse the water in the plant and wastewater from the food processing operation to water the fields. The solar facility will support our thermal processing plant there, which is one of the largest soup plants in the world. The Napoleon plant should be a model recycling and water-use program.

HK: Do these advances in your agricultural programs have an equal impact across all of your products?

DC: These most significantly impact our vegetable portfolio, which really cuts across all of our soups and our beverages. Most of our vegetables, other than tomatoes, are harvested within 100 miles of each plant. We get fresh vegetables delivered to the plant every day. Those vegetables go into our soups, our Prego pasta sauce, our Pace Mexican sauces and salsa, and our V8 juice. All of our vegetable-based products benefit.

HK: Recycling has been one of the first focus areas for many corporate CSR efforts. Yet, Campbell's has set a goal of 95 percent recycling by 2020. What is critical to achieve this goal and do you believe 100 percent recycling is within reach?

DM: Our current recycling rate is 83 percent. We are primarily focused on our food ingredients. Our goal is global, but we are currently most able to measure our impact in the U.S. We do want to get to 100 percent waste recycling. Our challenge is that the infrastructure is not yet available across all regions to support waste processing. On the other hand, in terms of consumer recycling, we have an advantage as a shelf-stable food manufacturer. People consume our products in their entirety, and then our packaging, for the most part, is recyclable.

DC: To elaborate on plant waste recycling, we have four large plants that are out in the country: Napoleon, Ohio; Maxton, North Carolina; Paris, Texas and Sacramento, CA. Most of our plant waste is food waste. It's the same as you would have in your kitchen. Partners like Waste Management (See C-Suite profile of David Steiner. CEO of Waste Management) are stepping up their game in organics recycling, but right now it's still fragmented, especially in rural areas. We are also piloting a bio-digestion plant to generate methane.

HK: This summer, Doug will be passing the reins to you, Denise. What do you each see as the greatest challenge in this transition?

DC: When you make sustainability central to the way people do their work, the principles stick no matter who is leading. Our employees are passionate and engaged. At times it seems, even though I'm the CEO, I'm actually running to catch up with my team. Going forward, we need to focus and execute in a disciplined manner. Such execution challenges play to Denise's strengths.

DM: Environmental sustainability is in my personal DNA. My uncle, Richard Sullivan, was the head of environmental protection for the State of New Jersey under Governor Cahill. As a child, I got schooled on the importance of saving the planet. Sustainability is also in our employees' DNA. As a company, we have embraced a commitment to "nourish our consumers, our neighbors, our employees, and our planet." We have set sustainability objectives and we use a balance scorecard to measure ourselves on energy and water use and waste recycling. Major initiatives, like the Napoleon plant initiative, are highlighted in performance reviews and our teams get measured against those twice a year.

Looking forward, our greatest challenge is advancing education and awareness so we can continue to make improvements across agriculture, recycling, operations and products. Consumers are still very confused about what they see in the marketplace and what's really green. Among our industry peers, we don't yet have common metrics.

DC: Importantly, we are working with industry partners on all aspects of the food chain. Ken Powell from General Mills heads a Grocery Manufacturers Association committee that is focused on establishing common metrics and language. The goal is to harmonize our efforts. This will help the whole food and beverage industry become more productive and more sustainable.

Campbell's Soup photo CC-licensed by Profzucker.