Campbell Soup Failed To Attract Healthy Consumers. Was Its Strategy Doomed From The Start?

Denise Morrison, the Chief Executive Officer of the Campbell Soup Company, suddenly and unexpectedly resigned yesterday. Why did she do it?

Some analysts believe that she was compelled to resign because she failed to turn around a brand that is stale with age. Campbell’s was founded in 1869, and its canned products gained universal fame in a 1962 painting by pop artist Andy Warhol.

But our perception of Campbell’s hasn’t modernized in the half-century after Warhol created his signature work. Although Morrison and others made many attempts to update its product line and introduce healthier complementary products, consumers continue to associate the Campbell’s brand with sodium-packed cans of soup.

That’s why Morrison lost her position. But was she truly to blame?

On the one hand, the contemporary consumer is undoubtedly demanding healthier foods and beverages. A persuasive argument could certainly be made in favor of improving the health content of Campbell’s product line.

But on the other hand, let’s try to identify other firms that have successfully implemented this strategy. How many purveyors of unhealthy goods have transformed their product lines into healthy ones? Has McDonald’s, for instance, truly succeeded with its offerings of salads? What of its ill-fated McLean Deluxe sandwich?

Alternative examples abound of such purveyors “doubling down” on the unhealthy pleasures of their product lines. Burger King, for instance, unapologetically sells a Rodeo King sandwich that contains 82 grams of fat, 2,270 milligrams of sodium, and 1,250 total calories. Yes, you can order a large side of fries with that!

Likewise, it’s hard to imagine that many consumers would be attracted to a healthy version of a deep-fried Twinkie. Even if a small niche of customers were to demand such a product, they might not trust Hostess Brands to create it.

So let’s be fair to Denise Morrison. It’s easy to blame her for failing to execute Campbell’s transformation into a healthy foods brand. But it’s possible that this strategy, adopted by Campbell’s Board of Directors, was doomed to fail from the start.

Perhaps, in contrast, Campbell’s should have embraced the authentic and unalterable image that it has earned over many decades of canned soup production. And perhaps, like Burger King, it will only find future success by being true to its image.