US Economy

It's a turbulent time, but the US consumer is still 'quite strong,' Campbell Soup CEO says

Key Points
  • Campbell Soup CEO Mark Clouse says his company continues to see signs of strength from the U.S. consumer.
  • "So far, I would say I haven't seen major change but we're watching closely and feel great about the way the business is positioned," Clouse tells CNBC.
  • Clouse also says the 150-year-old soup maker is refocusing on its core businesses and hoping to "get the innovation machine going."  
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Campbell Soup CEO on industry as company celebrates 150th anniversary

Campbell Soup CEO Mark Clouse said Monday that his company continues to see signs of strength from the U.S. consumer but added it is watching for signs of weakness amid global recession fears.

"I think it's obviously a bit of a turbulent time, but I think the strength of the consumers we're seeing, as it relates to the engagement with our brands, is quite strong," Clouse said on "Closing Bell."

Clouse's display of confidence about the U.S. consumer, which accounts for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy, mirrors the strength shown by hard economic data points. The country's unemployment rate dropped to a 50-year low in September, while retail sales rose more than anticipated in August.

The final reading on September consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan also showed a small increase —however, a near-record number of respondents cited trade policies as a negative factor weighing on growth.

A key manufacturing index also showed the sector declined in September, the latest sign that the U.S.-China trade war is hampering the economy.

No matter what fluctuations happen in the economy, Clouse said, he thinks 150-year-old Campbell Soup is in a strong position.

"Even in a world where there may be a threat of a recession out there, our portfolio actually meets a lot of needs in a variety of different economic situations," said Clouse, who became CEO in January. "So far I would say I haven't seen major change but we're watching closely and feel great about the way the business is positioned."

Campbell Soup struggled for years prior to Clouse's leadership. But since Clouse became CEO, Campbell Soup's stock has seen a resurgence. It is up 42.78% year to date as the company refocused its operations by selling its international and fresh businesses.

"It enables us to take a big bite out of debt. We know that is something quite important for many investors and the company," Clouse said of the sales. "But it also is a big enabler to drive focus."

Clouse said Campbell Soup will now concentrate on improving its performance across its more narrow two divisions — snacks, and meals and beverage.

"If we can win in those, driving our resources, both human and financial capital, in the right spots, I'm feeling great about that foundation," Clouse said, citing the need to "get the innovation machine going."

Asked whether Campbell Soup would continue selling off other brands or portions of its business, Clouse said he feels the company is in "a really good position."

"We've got our debt level where we're beginning to feel very comfortable with where we are," he said. "We continue to look at things, whether they're core to what we're doing. But for where we are now, I want to focus on getting the divestitures complete then really focusing on driving the core business."