Heinz deal prompts Campbell Soup to look closely at costs

BOCA RATON, Florida Wed Feb 20, 2013 8:12pm EST

A worker restocks Campbell's soup cans inside a Fresh & Easy store in Burbank, California October 19, 2012. Picture taken October 19, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

A worker restocks Campbell's soup cans inside a Fresh & Easy store in Burbank, California October 19, 2012. Picture taken October 19, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

BOCA RATON, Florida (Reuters) - The planned $23 billion acquisition of H.J. Heinz Co HNZ.N by Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) and 3G Capital is leading rival Campbell Soup Co (CPB.N) to take a closer look at its own cost structure, the soup company's chief executive told Reuters on Wednesday.

3G is run by investors who bought Burger King Worldwide Inc (BKW.N) and helped engineer the formation of Anheuser Busch InBev (ABI.BR). They are known for cutting costs and running very efficient businesses, and Campbell CEO Denise Morrison does not want to stand pat.

"For me, it's a heightened signal that I've got to be even more aggressive about costs," Morrison said in an interview on the sidelines of the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in Boca Raton, Florida. "Campbell is always looking for ways to create better productivity and I think this is a good call to action."

Kellogg (K.N) Chief Executive John Bryant told analysts that he keeps an eye on what the competition does as a matter of course, evaluating their actions to find lessons to apply to his own company, though he was not speaking about 3G specifically.

Kellogg is in the process of turning its business around after aggressive cost-cutting left the cereal maker vulnerable to problems including food safety issues.

Campbell Soup's stock rose last Thursday, the day the Heinz deal was announced. The maker of Prego pasta sauces, V8 juices and Pepperidge Farm cookies has often been considered by Wall Street as a good tie-up for Heinz, given its product categories.

"Campbell is a great company," Heinz Chief Executive William Johnson said in August 2008 at the company's annual meeting when a shareholder asked about making an offer for the world's largest soup maker. "Campbell would represent a nice fit with the company. We are always looking for opportunities to expand and grow."

Nonetheless, roughly half of Campbell's stock is owned by heirs of John Dorrance, who invented condensed soup. That would likely make any acquisition difficult.

When asked whether the Heinz takeover could signal more deals ahead, Morrison said the food industry is always in motion.

"We're a business that rearranges the furniture a lot," she said, referring to the U.S. packaged food industry. Her own company last August bought Bolthouse Farms for $1.55 billion, its largest purchase ever. The move expanded its reach into baby carrots, refrigerated juices and salad dressings.

Morrison said Campbell could do more deals, large or small.

"If it's a way to create value, then it's part of the strategy," she said, citing also the possibility of more partnerships like the one Campbell has in Mexico with Grupo Jumex and Conservas La Costena.

Campbell Soup shares closed up 1 cent at $40.01 on Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares closed at $38.18 the day before the Heinz deal was announced.

(Additional reporting by Brad Dorfman in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Cynthia Osterman)

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