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ConAgra CEO: Innovation is as important in the food business as it is in anybody's business

With President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration only three days away, companies and investors are anxiously awaiting clarification on some of Trump and the GOP's economic policy, specifically on trade agreements and border issues.

However, for companies that operate mostly within the United States, the concern shifts to policies encouraging investment in the business and driving growth and innovation.

"[Our issues are] getting our cost structure in order and then grow," Sean Connolly, CEO of ConAgra, told CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Tuesday. "As you pointed out a few minutes ago, there's a lot of 'maybe this, maybe that' going on [with policies]. We can't spend our energy getting distracted by speculation. We've got to stay focused on executing our agenda, and that is really about growth and innovation."

Although ConAgra, the company responsible for food favorites such as Slim Jims, Reddi-wip, Swiss Miss and Pam cooking spray, isn't a Silicon Valley–based technology firm, Connolly maintains that innovation is still the key to driving growth and sales for the food processor.

"Innovation is as important in our business as it is in anybody's business," Connolly said. "Let's face it. We have 50-plus iconic legacy brands, and brands evolve over time. And if they're not contemporized and kept relevant, they can become stale. And stale brands equate with weak sales, and weak sales means we don't do our part in adding jobs and driving the economy."

A number of companies, including Wal-Mart, General Motors and Amazon have reported that they're planning to add jobs to the economy in the future, but ConAgra has announced cutting jobs in order to prioritize raising its top line and managing its cost structure.

"The key is a lot of companies in our space got out over their skis in terms of being too bloated on cost structure," Connolly said.
"We have now right-sized the business. Now we've got to grow the top line. And as we grow the top line, we'll need more employees to help continue to drive the business, and then we'll be able to grow our employment ranks from there. But it starts by making sure you're not out over your skis and have a competitive cost structure."