Morrison, who became CEO of Campbell in 2011, joined the soup company in 2003 after stints at a number of consumer giants. But the task she faced was daunting. Today's diners want their food fresh, not with preservatives. They are suspicious, rather than impressed, by century-old brands.
At Campbell, the challenge is heightened by its largest shareholders, the Dorrance family. The family made its fortune on soup and, sources say, has been slow to accept the realities of soup's slowing fortunes.
Campbell's efforts to transform its portfolio on its own, like launching an organic soup line, failed to catch on with consumers. So it eventually turned to deals. Among them, it bought organic soup company Pacific Foods for $700 million and fresh food and drink brand Bolthouse Farms for $1.55 billion.
The goal of the latter was to help Campbell escape the doldrums of the center aisle of the grocery store, as today's shoppers head to fresher foods that surround the perimeter. The fresh business, though, floundered, leaving Campbell with a $619 million impairment charge this past quarter.
Part of the challenge was bad luck, a drought in California hurt the quality of Bolthouse's carrot crop.
Campbell, though, also faced the same difficulties other food companies have as they've looked to go into new categories through dealmaking. The soup company had little experience in the skill-set required for harvesting, fertilizing and planting.
Meantime, under Morrison, Campbell pursued another playbook followed to varying degrees of by peers like PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Mars and General Mills. It launched a venture capital arm, hoping to catch new trends — like kombucha and gluten-free — before they ate into its sales.
Several years into these efforts though, many of today's biggest successes, like Kind Bar, have originated outside such incubators. The culture of start-ups, where failure is inevitable, differs starkly from a publicly traded company tied to quarterly expectations and the need to show return on investment. And only a small fraction of start-up brands ever grow into anything large enough to make a dent in the sales of a big food company.
Many of today's savviest entrepreneurs are unwilling to tie themselves to Big Food themselves, intent on maintaining their renegade mentality.