Campbell’s stays strong in Camden … for now

Insiders fear breakup of beleaguered food company will push more of it outside of N.J.

By Anjalee Khemlani
Camden | Nov 20, 2018 at 2:03 pm

A proxy fight between minority investor Third Point and Campbell Soup Co. is spurring chatter among the business community that — in a worst-case scenario — Campbell’s will end up reducing its footprint in Camden, the city it has called home for 150 years.

Two sources familiar with some internal discussions at Campbell’s told ROI-NJ that, although Campbell’s has been trying to unload its less-profitable assets, investors have been pushing for divestiture of other, more-profitable assets — which could include parts of the company based in Camden.

But that isn’t true, based on Tuesday’s quarterly investors call.

The call reiterated what Camden announced in August, when it said it would keep its core North American businesses of snacks, soups and meals and beverages, but would divest its Campbell Fresh and Campbell International business units.

Campbell Fresh is based in California and the International office is in Australia, according to a spokesperson Tuesday. The North American core business is headquartered in Camden.

The call also revealed the two business units account for a combined total of $2.1 billion in revenue.

The company began its review process earlier this year, after announcing it would do so in May.

The board evaluated several options, including divesting assets; splitting the company into two parts, similar to Kraft and Mondelez; and selling the entire company.

After the analysis, on Aug. 30, the company announced the divestiture of Campbell Fresh and Campbell International.

Campbell Soup Co.
Campbell’s headquarters in Camden.

Campbell’s, which was described as a “responsible corporate citizen,” was lauded by one source for its efforts in Camden.

“They play a substantial role in healthy initiatives in Camden,” the source said.

The source requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

But they did say this: Camden still may not be safe.

Rumors of a possible acquisition by a larger food company earlier this year spurred similar comments.

Company officials previously said they are confident that if Campbell’s was acquired in whole or in part, any new owner will see the commitment to Camden and keep the headquarters where it is.

Then there’s the interest of the Dorrance family, which still owns 40 percent of the shares of Campbell’s. It has a vested interest in keeping the company intact.

“I think they get an $80 million check a year in dividends alone,” one source said.

The source that they felt the board would win the proxy fight.

“I think ultimately, the proxy fight will go the way of the current CEO and the board,” the source said.

A source with knowledge of the discussions within the company said any comments to the contrary, or about Campbell’s footprint decreasing, were purely speculative and not based on facts.

“That is not on the radar,” they said.

In a first-quarter earnings call Tuesday, interim CEO and President Keith McLoughlin said the company is going to be in a transition phase for the next year.

“Hopefully you get a little bit of the picture here that there are changes happening at Campbell’s,” he said. “We are in a turnaround. There is still a ton of work in front of us, so we are by no means declaring victory.

“This is the beginning of the turnaround of the Campbell Soup Co.”

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Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem