Business

Snyder's-Lance had a tumultuous 105th year. Here's what's ahead for the snack maker.

Toast Chee packages fly down a conveyor before they are boxed and then put in cases before shipping. It's been a time of change for Snyder's-Lance, which sold itself to Campbell Soup and had two CEOs come and go in the past 1 1/2 years.
Toast Chee packages fly down a conveyor before they are boxed and then put in cases before shipping. It's been a time of change for Snyder's-Lance, which sold itself to Campbell Soup and had two CEOs come and go in the past 1 1/2 years. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

The bag of pretzels in your lunchbox, the bowl of chips at the barbeque, the sleeve of bright orange crackers at the office. Snyder’s-Lance has long been the Charlotte company behind a number of popular snack brands at the local grocery store.

But over the past year and a half, the company has seen a lot of changes.

Snyder’s-Lance sold itself to Camden, N.J.,-based Campbell Soup Co., saw two CEOs come and go, and is trying to adjust its business as consumer preferences shift from old standbys toward fresher, healthy foods.

Snyder's-Lance employs about 900 workers at its South Boulevard plant, where it has been manufacturing the peanut butter sandwich crackers for which the brand is known since 1962.

It’s unclear what impact Campbell's moves will have on Charlotte. The company did say a planned expansion of jobs and production at the South Boulevard site will move forward.

But top executives at Campbell are contemplating big changes, and Campbell is conducting a comprehensive review of its product lineup, to be completed in August.

"Everything is on the table," interim CEO Keith McLoughlin said during a May conference call with analysts. "There are no sacred cows."

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Campbell Soup Interim CEO Keith McLoughlin Chris Ratcliffe Bloomberg

Some experts and analysts are forecasting a bumpy road ahead.

“If you look at Campbell, they have not been meeting their profit expectations for a while,” said Steven Cox, a professor of marketing at Queens University of Charlotte.

Food company CEOs must make sales numbers while also adjusting to a rapidly changing market, he said.

“Part of the reason (food companies) are not making their numbers is because they are not with current trends,” Cox said. "There are going to be some real changes in the food industry.”

Since the Snyder's-Lance acquisition closed on March 26, Campbell's stock price has dropped about 12 percent, and was trading at $37.36 Thursday.

A time of transition

Lance Packing Company began when Philip Lance started selling bags of peanuts on the streets of Charlotte in 1913. The snack company has been operating out of the area ever since.

In 2010, the company merged with pretzel maker Snyder’s of Hanover to become Snyder’s-Lance. It went on to acquire several other snack brands, such as Pop Secret popcorn and Kettle Brand chips, and grew revenue by 48 percent from 2013 to 2017.

In 2016, Snyder’s-Lance was offered over $1 million in incentives from North Carolina, Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte for a proposed expansion that would entail a $38 million investment and 130 new jobs at the company’s local plant.

Sudden change came to Snyder's-Lance in April 2017 when CEO Carl Lee Jr. abruptly retired.

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Carl Lee. Jr., former CEO of Snyder's-Lance Mark Carter (Charlotte)

Revenue had fallen short of expectations in the previous quarter, growing by about 3 percent from the previous year when accounting for the company’s acquisition of nut-packager Diamond Foods. The company did not say whether Lee’s departure was linked to the financial performance.

"Our organization is laser-focused on... continuous improvement to return the business back to more expected levels of profitability,” Snyder’s-Lance said in a press release following the announcement about Lee's departure.

The following quarter, revenue was up 3.3 percent from the previous year.

In December 2017, Campbell Soup, owner of such brands as Pepperidge Farm and V8, announced that it would acquire Snyder’s-Lance in an all-cash, $4.87 billion deal.

“This acquisition will dramatically transform Campbell, shifting our center of gravity and further diversifying our portfolio into the faster-growing snacking category,” said then-CEO Denise Morrison. The acquisition shrunk Campbell’s soup business to 27 percent of its portfolio.

Campbell has said the acquisition would allow for savings totaling about $170 million by the end of 2022.

The company has not said whether it plans any layoffs in Charlotte. But it did say the Charlotte expansion project would move forward as planned, although it did not provide an estimated date of completion.

Shortly after the Snyder's-Lance acquisition was finalized, Campbell announced its own change in leadership. On May 18, the company said that Morrison would be retiring, effective immediately.

On an interim basis, Morrison was replaced by McLoughlin, the former CEO of appliance maker Electrolux, which has its North American headquarters in Charlotte. Campbell is still looking for a permanent replacement.

A changing industry

Morrison’s departure from Campbell came after what the company called "unacceptable" results from the previous quarter.

In announcing Morrison's retirement, Campbell did not cite a reason for the move.

Campbell has been struggling with a decline in its core business driven by a disappointing venture into the fresh foods business, Chief Financial Officer Anthony DiSilvestro said in a May conference call with analysts. That month, the company reported a $393 million loss, or $1.31 per share, for the three months ended April 29, compared with a profit of $176 million a year earlier. The loss was owed in part to a $619 million charge related to the fresh foods segment, Campbell said.

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With the acquisition of Snyder's-Lance, Campbell Soup Company allocated 46 percent of its business to snacking. Campbell Soup Company

Several other large food companies have experienced flat or declining sales in recent years as shoppers favored produce and meats over packaged food, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Analysts Robert Moskow and Neel Kulkarni of Credit Suisse cited this “structural decline” as one of their main reasons for their "underperform" rating of Campbell stock. They also expressed concern regarding Campbell’s internal struggles that may make the acquisition of Snyder’s-Lance difficult.

“Addressing the problems in Campbell’s core business while integrating a big Snyder’s business in the midst of a turnaround sounds like a hard thing to do,” the analysts wrote in their April report. "As a result of these issues, we view this as a merger of two companies getting together from a position of weakness rather than a position of strength.”

Other analysts disagree.

“We view the deal favorably as it shifts (Campbell’s) product portfolio toward the faster-growing snack category,” Joseph Agnese, consumer staples analyst at CFRA, wrote in an analyst's report. “We see (Campbell) reshaping its business.”

Cox, the marketing professor, also believes the acquisition of Snyder's-Lance could help Campbell. "We don’t go down to the kitchen and grab a can of soup while we’re watching TV,” he said. "For a company like Campbell’s, this a natural expansion of their product line.”

Looking forward

Snyder’s-Lance is now part of new Campbell business unit Campbell Snacks, in combination with cookie brand Pepperidge Farm.

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Carlos Abrams-Rivera, president of Campbell Snacks. Campbell Soup Company

The company will continue to be “agile and nimble” in response to industry changes, Carlos Abrams-Rivera, president of Campbell Snacks, told the Observer.

With half of Campbell’s business now focused on snacks, there is “a transformation happening” at the company, Abrams-Rivera said.

“What’s not going to change is our commitment to great, quality products," he said.


Correction

A photo caption of Campbell Soup Interim CEO Keith McLoughlin had misidentified his title in a previous version of this story. And the story had incorrectly stated the reason for Campbell CEO Denise Morrison's departure from the company. Morrison had retired.

Lang: (704)358-5198; @hannaherinlang
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