Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison Retires Suddenly

Here’s how Morrison pushed to keep the iconic soup company relevant in a rapidly changing food industry in just seven years as chief executive.

Campbell Soup Co. former president and CEO Denise Morrison.

Campbell Soup announced on Friday that Denise M. Morrison is retiring immediately, stepping down as the Camden-based company’s president & CEO. The company also said that it would possibly sell some of its brands after failing to reach tangible success with its fresh foods efforts.

The abrupt change comes after Morrison assumed the chief executive position seven years ago.

“I am proud of Campbell’s accomplishments and how we have transformed our portfolio amid changing consumer tastes for food and heath and well-being,” said Morrison, 64, in a statement.

Under Morrison’s leadership, Campbell Soup aimed to confront these consumer changes head on with a series of acquisitions.

Last year, the company added organic soup producer Pacific Foods to its portfolio, and before that, it bought Bolthouse Farms, organic baby food company Plum Organics, biscuit company Kelson and fresh salsa and hummus maker Garden Fresh Gourmet. Last December, the company said it would even acquire Snyder’s snack foods company Lance Inc. for more than $6 billion, its biggest acquisition to date.

Campbell’s shared fell more than 10 percent on Friday after the company announced the leadership shift and lower-than-expected earnings.

Campbell board member Keith R. McLoughlin will serve as interim CEO. “Having been a Director and observing the company over an extended period of time, I know where Campbell has been and where it’s headed,” said McLoughlin, “and am excited to lead the company as we continue to work to increase value for all our stakeholders.”

Board chairman Les C. Vinney said Morrison has made important contributions to reposition the company in the rapidly changing food industry.

“Denise has been able to significantly transform Campbell’s portfolio into the faster-growing snacking category with the acquisition of Snyder’s-Lance and increased the company’s focus on health and well-being with brands like Pacific Foods,” Vinney said. “Her actions have helped to enhance the long-term growth potential of Campbell.”

Morrison’s departure also cuts the number of women running big U.S. firms — those in the Fortune 500 — to just 23. And in the Philadelphia region, the top 20 highest paid CEOs list will be dominated by men — hopefully temporarily.