Campbell's Goes Green

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - When you think of Campbell’s Soup, you think of Andy Warhol’s iconic image, 1950s housewives, and your grandmother right? But do you think of the word “organic” and Campbell’s Soup in the same sentence? Probably not.

Denise Morrison, CEO and president of Campbell’s Soup, is vowing to change all that with their first line of organic soups. At $2.99-$3.29 per 17 oz. container, this pricing brings organic food within the budgetary reach of more Americans at a time when most organic foods are beyond the means of middle and lower income families.

That’s only the first of many radical new initiatives being forged under Morrison’s leadership. Last week, she shared her vision with a roomful of sustainability representatives from some of the U.S.’ most powerful corporations at the Business for Social Responsibility Conference in San Francisco. Talking to a rapt audience, she said, “Good business is not just about making a profit, but is about making a difference.”

Morrison’s passion is compelling enough to make a believer, even of this skeptic, someone raised on Campbell’s Alphabet soup, and the kinds of packaged processed foods I would never feed my own children. It’s this mistrust that has pushed her company to meet the new demands of the market. Rather than fighting it, Morrison, now says she embraces this challenge, “People that buy our foods are holding us to a higher standard—and we welcome this.”

This is a major shift for a company that was sued for falsely labeling several of their soups as 100% natural, when they actually contained GMO ingredients such as soy and corn. Campbell’s lost the lawsuit, and it doesn’t take a genius to see how this kind of publicity is not good for sales. Traditional food companies like Campbell’s are left with the choice of either continuing to fight the trend or to embrace it. Wall Street Analyst Robert Moskow has reported that “25 U.S. food and beverage companies have lost an equivalent of $18 billion in market share since 2009.” With 45% of the American public actively trying to include organic food in their diets, Campbell’s has been forced to address their falling sales numbers. Referring to Campbell’s slogan “Real food that matters for life’s moments,” Morrison says she gets consumer concerns. “How can you be ‘real food” if you have artificial flavors and colors?” she asked. Campbell's has promised to eliminate artificial colors and dyes from their food by 2018. The company’s organic line of soups is certified by the USDA, and inspected by the third party California Certified Organic Farmers.

Under Morrison’s reign, in addition to launching Campbell’s organic soups, they have purchased Plum Organics, an organic babyfood line, and Bolthouse Farms, a juice and smoothie company. Morrison now says she supports federal GMO labeling rather than the current state-by-state piecemeal legislation. “I’ve been in favor of a national solution,” she said. “I support a consumer’s right to know what’s in our food.”

Morrison credits her drive and her expectations of her associates with the values and lessons that her father (an executive at telecommunications firms) taught her. "An outing with my dad was going to the library." He demanded that Morrison and her sisters read a book a week and present reports to the family at the dinner table.

Morrison also believes that along with success comes an obligation to give back. “It’s really important to connect social responsibility to good business, which is not just about making a profit but is about making a difference.” To this end, Campbell’s has launched the Campbell’s Healthy Communities Program in Camden, New Jersey, where Campbell’s is headquartered. Concerned by the startling rates of childhood obesity in Camden: 40% for children ages 3-19, Campbell’s partnered with the mayor and community groups to tackle the issue head on.

Pledging to invest $10 million dollars over 10 years, Campbell's set a goal of reducing childhood obesity and hunger in Camden’s 23,000 children by 50%. Before the initiative, Camden had one grocery store and some small corner stores that sold junk food. Today, they’ve created approximately 80 healthy corner stores, and added 100,000 hours of PE to the public schools and 216,000 hours of nutrition education for children and adults. Camden’s extraordinary transformation has become a model for cities across the country facing the same childhood health crises. Morrison said, “I believe if you can do this in Camden, New Jersey, that you can do this anywhere. I humbly say to you, we have much more to do.”

If Morrison is a woman of her word, she appears to be trying to make Campbell’s relevant and trustworthy again. It will be interesting to see if she forges the way for other food companies that are still stuck in the past.