How CEO Denise Morrison Is Getting Campbell to Think Outside the Can

New Products' Millennial Appeal Helped Capture Boomer Interest, Too

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When Denise Morrison took over the top job at Campbell Soup. Co. a little more than a year ago, she asked herself: How do you get a 140-year-old company with almost a 60 marketshare in soup to innovate? The company had great margins and cash flow, but slow growth -- and driving profitable net sales growth requires innovation, she told a breakfast audience at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

She focused on two things: a process she calls "disciplined creativity" based on studying how innovative firms brought great ideas to market and a focus on working for the consumer.

Denise Morrison
Denise Morrison

To understand how to foster creativity in the organization, Ms. Morrison said she went out to Palo Alto and observed highly innovative firms as they sought to develop new ideas -- and then adopted a similar team-based approach at Campbell.

"I pulled high-potential people off the base business -- and left some on the business as well -- and then formed cross-functional breakthrough teams, who had a disciplined approach to studying the consumer, finding the points of pleasure, finding the points of pain, finding the commercialization opportunity that existed … and then creating products to deliver to the consumer," she said, adding that the last word is key.

At Campbell, when Ms. Morrison asks employees who they work for, they're not to say Denise Morrison or any other supervisor -- they must say the consumer.

"If everyone in the company gets up every day and says that , they will operate totally differently," Ms. Morrison said. "Because then they'll start to say, is what I'm doing at this moment, this day, really going to make a difference for the consumer? And if it isn't, don't do it."

Ms. Morrison brought props to the breakfast talk, which focused on how to foster innovation in Fortune 500 companies, pulling out of a bag several new Campbell products: the Go Soup line of bold-flavored microwavable soups packaged in pouches; Skillet Sauces; Jingos, a new cracker brand from Pepperidge Farms that came via a collaboration with the Campbell's team in Australia; a line of crustless bread; and the first internet-only product Campbell had launched -- Goldfish crackers that could be customized with messages and used, for example, as favors at children's birthday parties.

"Even I can make this … I mean, you can be a genius -- people will think you did it from scratch," she said, holding up a thai-green-curry-flavored Skillet Sauce, her salesmanship on display. "I tell you, this is unbelievable!"

While Campbell's core customer is a boomer, several of the new products were designed to appeal to millennials. But Ms. Morrison said in food, like fashion, youth are influencers. It was actually fashion magazines that provided some inspiration for that line of thinking.

"In fashion, younger women set fashion trends -- one day you had someone my age on the cover of magazines and the next day it's Jessica Alba, and it's like, 'What's happening here,' " she said. "What I'm finding is if you design for the next generation, your current users are excited about it, too."

She recalled a meeting of Campbell's global leadership team in which she asked, "Why can't our company go faster?" Soon everyone was talking about speed, risk and the need to take bolder moves, she said. That led the company to add a new value called courage to its list of corporate values, something she said "gave people permission" to be more innovative.

"Do you know what it's like to get a company as old as mine to get its mind out of the can?," she said. "The can is like a gravitational pull. We have to do the 'can ad.' Cans are still a very important business … but we've got to do some different things and that takes courage and giving the organization permission to think outside the can."

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