Campbell Soup Co. facing Fresh challenges

by Keith Nunes
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Campbell Soup Fresh unit - V-8, Garden Fresh Gourmet, Bolthouse Farms
V-8 shelf-stable beverage sales declined, while impairment charges related to carrots and Garden Fresh Gourmet negatively impacted Campbell Soup's earnings.

CAMDEN, N.J. — Management and supply chain issues in the Campbell Soup Co.’s Campbell Fresh business unit negatively impacted earnings during the second quarter of fiscal 2017, ended Jan. 29.

Denise Morrison, Campbell
Denise Morrison, president and c.e.o. of Campbell Soup

“I am not satisfied with our overall sales performance in the quarter,” said Denise Morrison, president and chief executive officer, during a Feb. 17 conference call with financial analysts to discuss the quarterly results. “Organic sales declined 2%, with the most prominent declines in Campbell Fresh and V-8 shelf-stable beverages. Additionally, in the Campbell Fresh segment we recorded non-cash impairment charges related to the carrot and carrot ingredient and Garden Fresh Gourmet reporting units.”

The impairment charges totaled $212 million, with $147 million charged to reduce the carrying value of the intangible assets of the company’s Bolthouse Farms carrot and carrot ingredients business, and $65 million against the company’s Garden Fresh business. Both of the businesses are a part of the Campbell Fresh reporting unit, which also includes refrigerated soups.

As a result, the company’s quarterly net income plunged to $101 million, equal to 33c per share on the common stock, against net income of $265 million, or 85c per share, during the second quarter of fiscal 2016.

Bolthouse Farms carrots, Campbell Soup
Campbell Soup experienced $147 million in charges related to the company’s Bolthouse Farms carrot business.

Sales during the quarter fell 1% to $1,346 million from $1,382 million during the same time of the previous year.

During the Feb. 17 conference call Ms. Morrison offered an in-depth analysis of the challenges that have faced the Campbell Fresh business unit. The challenges facing the Fresh business ranged from leadership issues in the unit, quality issues related to the Bolthouse Farms carrot business, which resulted in a loss of customers, and capacity constraints for the manufacture of some fresh beverages.

“ … We replaced the leadership team and appointed a longtime Campbell executive, Ed Carolan, as the president of C-Fresh in November,” Ms. Morrison said. “It’s taking longer than we originally expected to regain carrot customers following last year’s quality and customer service issues and to rebuild capacity following the Protein Plus beverage recall. As a result, we no longer expect C Fresh to grow this fiscal year.”

Ed Carolan, Campbell Soup
Campbell Soup appointed Ed Carolan as president of C-Fresh in November.

She added that the company has addressed the carrot quality issues brought on by the drought in California, but the business is now facing new challenges.

“In the current quarter, our carrot business faced additional challenges, again related to the weather,” Ms. Morrison said. “In California, rainfall in December and January was significantly higher than normal. This hampered our ability to harvest fields and lowered our yields on the carrots we did harvest. This negatively impacted both sales and earnings in the quarter.”

Quality issues also prompted the company to recall Protein Plus beverages this past year. In the call, Ms. Morrison said the company is adding a beverage processing line at its Bakersfield, Calif., plant that will be operational in April, but management is struggling to identify co-packers who may provide additional capacity.

Bolthouse Farms Protein Plus beverages, Campbell Soup
Quality issues prompted Campbell Soup to recall Protein Plus beverages this past year.

“We’ve had challenges in finding co-packers that meet our quality standards, but we’ve recently qualified a co-packer and expect to be significantly expanding our capacity by the summer,” she said. “While we’re selling everything we make, we have insufficient capacity to fulfill merchandising demand across the full range of our beverages. Our plan is to relaunch Protein Plus merchandising in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017, when we expect to have sufficient supply.  Due to our continued capacity constraints, we don’t expect our beverage business to return to growth until the fourth quarter.”

In its Garden Fresh business, the Campbell Soup Co. is facing the challenge of adding national scale to a successful regional business.

“When we acquired it in June 2015, Garden Fresh Gourmet was a small operation with approximately $100 million in revenue and very little infrastructure,” Ms. Morrison said. “The integration into the Bolthouse Farms fresh platform proved to be challenging. The truth is we expected more, faster, in multiple areas of this business, including financial systems, information technology, and supply-chain integration, as well as increased marketplace distribution.

Garden Fresh Gourmet, Campbell Soup
In its Garden Fresh business, the Campbell Soup Co. is facing the challenge of adding national scale to a successful regional business.

“Throughout its short history, Garden Fresh Gourmet salsa was largely a Midwestern brand. Our plan called for the rapid distribution expansion of branded salsa beyond the Midwest. However, it became apparent that we did not have the differentiated recipes and taste profiles that would be accepted by consumers in other parts of the country.”

Management now believes they have developed the recipes required to pursue expanded distribution. In January, the company relaunched the brand in new packaging and featuring the regional recipes.

“Today, our A.C.V. (all-commodity volume) distribution of Garden Fresh branded salsa is only 37%, so we have a lot of runway to match the 70% A.C.V. levels of our other C-Fresh C.P.G. brands,” Ms. Morrison said. “We’re optimistic that we can get there with delicious high-quality ingredients, product and packaging innovation, improved marketing and sales support, and expansion into organic and regional flavors.”

The Campbell Soup Co.’s other business units, Americas Simple Meals and Beverages and Global Biscuits and Snacks fared better during the quarter than the Fresh business. Sales for the units were $1,231 million and $680 million, respectively, with the Americas Simple Meals business experiencing an 8% rise in operating income of $313 million, and Global Biscuits operating income falling 4% to $135 million.

Campbell Soup Well Yes! soups
Campbell Soup is pleased with the launch of its new Well Yes! soup line.

The company’s U.S. soup business grew during the quarter.

“I’m especially pleased with our ready-to-serve brands,” Ms. Morrison said. “Sales increased double digits in ready to serve. Chunky continued to lead the way, behind our improved execution and strong integrated marketing that fully leveraged our NFL sponsorship.

“We’re also delighted with the launch of our new Well Yes! clean label soup, which hit shelves in December. Retailer acceptance has been exceptional, with A.C.V. already around 75% and most customers taking all nine varieties.”

During the first six months of fiscal 2017, Campbell Soup recorded net income of $393 million, or $1.28 per share, down from the same period of the previous year when the company earned $459 million, or $1.48 per share.

Sales for the period fell slightly to $4,473 million from $4,404 million the previous year.
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