“Soup Is Good Food,” Campbell used to tell consumers. Now it wants them to think of it as a “Good For You” food company and, as part of that ongoing transformation, it said at a investor’s meeting Wednesday that it would remove all artificial flavors and ingredients from it products by 2018 and would be putting a major focus on its new Campbell Fresh division.
“To understand the ideas driving the overhaul of Campbell Soup Co., it helps to consider how the packaged food giant is talking about the products they make. According to chief executive Denise Morrison, the research and development team now describes their work in terms of ‘recipes and cooking, not formulas and processing,’” Sarah Halzack writes for the Washington Post.
“It’s a subtle verbal cue that reflects what the company behind Campbell’s soup, Pepperidge Farm cookies and Spaghettios is describing as an ‘extreme makeover’ to prevent it from becoming irrelevant in a new era of American eating.”
It’s not, some say, exactly leading the charge into the greener pasture.
“Competitors in the packaged food market like General Mills, Nestlé USA, and Kraft and chain restaurants like Subway, Panera, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut” are already there, as Consumerist’s Laura Northrup points out — but not without a bit of the wistfulness that has made marketers put off such overhauls to their cherished products. “Be prepared for some of the familiar flavors of your childhood to change. Maybe,” she concludes.
Not that it’s a laggard either.
“I wouldn’t say we’re coming from behind on this one. We’ve been working on this quietly. About 95% of our products have no preservatives, so we’ve done a lot of work. And, we still have some work to do,” according to Mark Alexander, Campbell’s president of Americas simple meals and beverages, writes Jade Scipioni of Fox Business.
Speaking of leading the pack, Boomers may have discovered that going natural is groovy but it’s the Millennials who have forced it into the mainstream.
“We’re seeing big shifts in consumers. The younger generation wants healthier products and our consumers are everywhere. We’re in 80% of households. Our consumer is America,” Alexander says.
And the demographics of that America are shifting in other ways, too, including “the continued growth of Hispanics,” Morrison points out in a transcript of the meeting. “Further, we're witnessing a fundamental redefinition of the family structure. Today, the American family is more like a mosaic. It comes in different configurations and represents different cultures, different races, different generations, different religions and different life choices.”
“It's a far cry from the Rockwellesque family units that many of us in the food industry are accustomed to. They are demanding that companies connected their households with relevant messages and products that meet their individual needs.”
Mossison goes on to proclaim that Campbell “like[s] to think of ourselves as the biggest small company. We're fundamentally different than many of the companies that comprise the food group today.”
In a follow-up call with Fortune’s Beth Kowitt, who wrote a June 1 cover story “The War On Big Food,” Morrison “said that her rhetoric was really about having the ‘soul and agility of a small company and scale, assets, and resources of a large company.’”
Kowitt writes that “Campbell is trying to adopt some of the strategies of ‘challenger’ brands — including those it has acquired like Plum Organics, Bolthouse, and most recently Garden Fresh Gourmet — by being more nimble and transparent.”
The Campbell Fresh division has about $1 billion in sales and consists of Bolthouse Farms, Garden Fresh Gourmet and its refrigerated soup business.
“The fresh opportunity is so compelling that we formed an entire division around it,” Morrison said at the meeting.
The transparency Morrison refers to is manifest in a new website that opens with the seven words that represent its purpose and is “the single most important cultural change we've implemented,” according to Morrison: “Real Food That Matters For Life's Moments.”
In fact, whatsinmyfood.com discloses all ingredients, identifies ones that are genetically modified and talks about where they come from and are produced. But this is not the place to get exact levels of the ingredients in each product; that’s on the nutrition label. The table salt in Chicken Noodle Soup “adds seasoning and flavor.” The sugar? It “balances the savory flavors.” And “MSG is used to enhance the soup's savory flavor and is made by fermenting cane or beet molasses.”
No wonder so many of us grew up loving the stuff. But the good news is that it already “contains no artificial colors, no artificial flavors and no preservatives.”