Al Poe BIRTH DATE: March 19, 1949 CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Various marketing and sales positions at General Foods and Mars Inc.; joined Campbell in 1991 as corporate VP in charge of condiments and sauces and the business development group. Appointed president, Meal Enhancement Group, in June 1993. EDUCATION: Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, B.S., 1971; Harvard Business School, MBA, 1975. PERSONAL: Married with two children. AL POE HELPS SPICE CAMPBELL WITH PACE FOODS DEAL

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It was 4:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day when Al Poe began final negotiations on what would be one of the highlights of his career: the Campbell Soup Co. acquisition of Mexican sauces giant Pace Foods.

"You're talking to a man who's averaged 3 hours sleep a night for the past week," the Campbell VP and president of the company's Meal Enhancement Group-and driving force behind the deal-said last week.

"But it was my best Thanksgiving ever," added Mr. Poe, who went from the early morning meeting with Pace executives to his mother's home for dinner after completing Campbell's largest acquisition ever, at $1.2 billion. "I asked her why she wasn't using salsa on her turkey and she looked at me like I was crazy."

Salsa-flavored Thanksgiving turkeys are perhaps an extreme example of what Mr. Poe calls "the Americanization of Mexican foods. Salsas have gone from being primarily associated with Hispanics and those in the Southwest to mainstream America."

Indeed, Mexican sauces several years ago surpassed ketchup in dollar sales. While ketchup sales now are estimated at $600 million, Mexican sauces have grown at an annual rate of 13% since 1988 to $800 million in sales.

Mr. Poe was so convinced of salsa's growth potential that his first act after joining Campbell in December 1991 was pursuing corporate support for meetings with executives from the top three Mexican sauce brands to discuss acquisition deals.

"Pace was always our No. 1 choice, but everybody has been looking at them for the past 10 years. They just weren't for sale," said Mr. Poe.

Campbell won the prize after a "sudden decision" on the part of Pace principal Kit Goldsbury.

Along with the price Campbell was willing to pay, "they saw that we were a tremendous fit and that we weren't trying to milk the category but to build brands," Mr. Poe said.

Campbell is very impressed with Pace's marketing acumen and will keep Temerlin McClain, Dallas, as the brand's agency.

Mr. Poe joked about the irony of a New Jersey-based company owning a brand whose ads deride the competition as "made in New York."

"Talk about irony-I was born in Harlem and raised in Brooklyn. You can know we'll make sure this brand is not made in New York," said Mr. Poe, who will be changing at least one personal habit as a result of the deal. "I usually carry around a bottle of Tabasco sauce," he said. "I'm going to have to switch to picante sauce. I'd say it's the right flavor for the moment."

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