Food & Beverage

Campbell Soup taps Deloitte to lay the groundwork for critical review amid pressure from Third Point

Key Points
  • Campbell Soup has tapped management consulting firm Deloitte to lay the groundwork of a competitive landscape analysis, sources tell CNBC
  • Deloitte's hiring is part of a critical review the company announced after it unveiling "unacceptable" earnings and the departure of CEO Denise Morrison.
  • Deloitte will help Campbell determine whether the review's conclusion should entail selling the company, or if it can resolve its challenges alone.
Cans of Campbell's soup are displayed on a shelf at Marinwood Market on November 21, 2017 in San Rafael, California. 
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Campbell Soup has tapped management consulting firm Deloitte to help guide a previously announced strategic review while activist shareholder Third Point separately takes a stake in the company, stoking takeover speculation, people familiar with the situation tell CNBC.

Campbell stirred questions about a potential sale when it announced in May that it was conducting a "thorough and critical" review of its operations and holdings after it disclosed "unacceptable" earnings and the departure of CEO Denise Morrison.

Deloitte's involvement takes its review process even further in helping Campbell determine the company's next steps. Deloitte is expected to tie up the review before Campbell announces earnings at the end of August, said the people, who declined to be identified because the discussions aren't public.

Campbell has previously said the board hasn't yet made a decision on the company's future course, which it plans to announce when it reports earnings.

"Campbell is currently undertaking a board-led comprehensive strategic and operational review of the business, including the composition of its entire portfolio, to examine all potential paths forward," company spokesman Thomas Hushen told CNBC. "We will present a thoughtful and effective plan for enhancing shareholder value on August 30 when the Company announces its fourth-quarter and full-year results."

The soup giant is already working with investment bank Centerview Partners on the review. Centerview's co-founder, Blair Effron, has a close relationship with the soup company that dates back decades.

It may also hire a second bank, depending on its decided course of action, the people say.

The company has also begun the process of looking for Morrison's replacement, people familiar with the matter say. One top internal candidate is Chief Operating Officer, Luca Mignini, these people previously told CNBC.

It's previously said it's looking at both internal and external candidates.

Campbell's Chief Financial Officer, Anthony Disilvestro, has been serving as point person for much of the strategic review, the people say.

The 149-year-old soup company is viewed as vulnerable as it faces pressure on multiple fronts and its shares slide. The company's stock is down more than 22 percent over the last 12 months.

Its wet soup business declined 1.9 percent over the past year, it told analysts in May. Its fresh food business, which includes Bolthouse Farms, is clocking a loss of roughly $50 million in earnings before interest tax depreciation and amortization, down from a $150 million gain, the people say. Meantime, industry experts say integrating its $6.1 billion acquisition of pretzel company Snyders-Lance will be difficult.

The end of Campbell Soup?

For Third Point to agitate for a sale, it would need to win over enough support from the family. The descendants of John P. Dorrance — the man many say invented condensed soup — have multiplied across many different clans over the years and they aren't all in agreement over whether to sell, some of the people say.

Third Point declined to comment.

Whether the Dorrance family, the company's largest stakeholder, will sell is open for question. They've resisted selling in the past. And whether Campbell with attract a decent bid is also up for debate. The once-iconic brand that became synonymous with American industrial success is no longer the prize for potential bidders it once was.

Should the family opt to pursue a sale, one party likely to take a look is Kraft Heinz, which would likely find significant cost savings in combining with Campbell.

Still, Kraft Heinz has been grappling with its own growth challenges. It is therefore unclear whether the ketchup-owner wants a slow-growing business likes soup, which faces competition from smaller upstarts, private label brands, as well as other categories.

Another option for Campbell would be to follow suit of its Big Food peers and prune its business. That road would likely entail the sale of fresh business, which would benefit from a management team experienced in agriculture. Campbell could also sell its Australian snacking business, Arnott's Biscuits

A further alternative would be to to spin its faster growing snack business from its soup and meals business. In that move, a private equity firm could also partner with the family to take the soup business private and out of the public eye.

— CNBC's Leslie Picker contributed to this article.