Campbell Soup, like other food companies, has been hit by rising prices for commodities and a weak consumer base, Chief Executive Douglas Conant told CNBC Thursday.
But, he said, the 140-year-old Campbell is taking a long-term perspective and not losing any sleep about the last 18 months.
"We grew soup sales for eight straight years, all the way through 2009, and we’ve had a bump in the road in the last 18 months and we’ve got to fix it," he said.
"We had our best earnings year ever in 2010. This is the first year we’re flat as a company, which means it’ll only be the second-best year we’ve ever had, instead of the first."
He said shareholders, half of whom are related to one family, are also taking a long-term view and are not interested in the soup company losing its independence through a merger.
"If you think about creating long-term shareholder value, there’s not a lot of evidence that mergers are creating value for the food industry over the long term," he said.
The shareholders are "very anchored in [Campbell] taking a long-term perspective, but delivering superior results in a reasonable period of time."
The company hedges against some major food costs and buys other commodities on the open market, he said. He called rising prices "a challenge that you’re hearing across the food industry. It is very real." Some of those high costs will find their way to the market, and to consumers who are already stretched.
Conant said Campbell is continuing to innovate in soup packaging and "adventuresome" flavors targeted to younger eaters, as a way of increasing sales. "When we innovate in soup, the soup category grows," he said. "When we don’t, it doesn’t."