President, chief executive officer, and director, Campbell Soup Company
Born: ca. 1952, in Chicago, Illinois.
Education: Northwestern University, BA, 1973; MBA, 1975.
Family: Married (wife's name unknown); children: three.
Career: General Mills, 1976–1989, marketing department; Kraft General Foods, 1989–1992, director of strategy; Nabisco Foods Group, 1992, vice president and general manager of Fleischmann's division; Nabisco Biscuit Co., 1992–1994, senior vice president of marketing; 1994–1995, sales and integrated logistics unit executive; Nabisco Food Company, 1995–2000, president; Campbell Soup Company, 2001—, president, chief executive officer, and director.
Address: Campbell Soup Company, 1 Campbell Place, Camden, New Jersey 08103-1799; http://www.campbellsoupcompany.com.
■ Beginning his career with General Mills, Douglas R. Conant worked in management and executive positions in the prepackaged food industry in the United States. During his stops at Kraft and Nabisco, he earned a reputation for developing new brands, revitalizing faltering brands, and marketing both; his strategies often resulted in growth and profit. Though he had no CEO experience, Conant was hired in 2001 as president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company and named a director. Conant faced many challenges in the position but worked to reinvigorate the condensed soup brand.
A native of Chicago, Illinois, Conant attended Northwestern University for both undergraduate study and graduate school. An undergraduate political science major, he was also a star tennis player on the university's tennis team. After graduating, Conant considered playing professional tennis but instead went to graduate school, earning an MBA. Conant then began his professional career in 1976, when he was hired by General Mills.
While Conant was employed at General Mills, he held a number of positions in marketing, strategy, and product management, primarily for food products. Over the next 10 years he worked variously as the marketing assistant for Betty Crocker potatoes, assistant product manager for new products, assistant product manager for Nature Valley granola bars, and product manager for Betty Crocker desserts. Conant left General Mills in 1986 to join Kraft.
Conant was hired by Kraft as the vice president of strategy for Kraft USA—the company created when Kraft merged with Philip Morris—and vice president of marketing and strategy for Kraft's Grocery Products Group. In 1989 he was promoted to director of strategy of Kraft USA. While Conant was at Kraft USA, the company enjoyed record-high sales, earnings, and return levels in 1988 and 1989. In early 1992 Conant left Kraft to work for Nabisco.
When Conant went to Nabisco, his skills in enhancing brands began to shine. His first position was as the vice president and general manager of the Fleischmann division. Conant was in charge of Fleischmann brand margarines and spreads, Blue Bonnet margarines and spreads, and EggBeaters (an egg substitute). In December 1992 he was promoted to senior vice president of marketing for Nabisco Foods Group in charge of Nabisco's cookie and cracker brands, including Chips Ahoy!, Oreos, Fig Newtons, and Ritz crackers. In this post Conant helped aggressively to build these brands when they were facing stiff competition from store brands, which were often cheaper but of similar quality. In 1993 the company's sales increased by 7 percent, and Nabisco was having one of its best years in the past 20 or so, despite the fact that the market for such products was stagnant.
Conant scored several major successes at Nabisco. With his team he came up with new ideas for branding Newton cookies, including introducing such new flavors as strawberry and apple, that doubled the volume of sales. Using Nabisco's research and development capabilities, Conant also helped create and market Snackwells, a new brand of cookies that capitalized on the low-fat craze of the early 1990s. The various Snackwells brands reached $100 million in sales in 1993.
In December 1994 Conant was promoted to the head of the Sales and Integrated Logistics unit in Nabisco as part of the company's policy to rotate jobs among top executives. This division focused on efficiency in the selling and distribution of all of Nabisco's products that were distributed in warehouses. Within a year Conant was promoted again. In 1995 he was named the president of Nabisco Food Company, which covered snacks and condiments.
Under Conant's leadership, Nabisco dominated the snack market in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Nabisco managed double-digit growth each year for five years through 2001. One reason for Conant's success was his use of a cross-functional team approach to branding. By using people of different backgrounds, he was able to develop new products and integrate ways to market them. Employees were as important to him as brands. He hired a number of the company's top managers and worked hard to retain them. Conant was able to retain 90 percent of the managers he hired. An avid reader, Conant often gave books to others, primarily biographies that were inspirational.
One way Conant emphasized growth was by building brands through the improvement of existing products and their packaging. Through this strategy, he helped Nabisco rejuvenate several core products, including Planters nuts, Life-Savers candies, and Milk-Bone dog biscuits. New products using these names were also successfully launched. They included LifeSavers Creme Savers and Ice Breakers, a gum bearing the LifeSavers brand name.
In 2001 Conant was hired by the Campbell Soup Company as its president and CEO and was named a director of the company. Campbell was the largest soup company in the world. In addition to soup, Campbell also manufactured other products, such as Pepperidge Farm cookies and crackers, Prego pasta sauce, V8 vegetable drinks, Goldfish crackers, and Godiva chocolates. Conant was expected to turn around the company, in part by using his success with branding. When he took over, soup sales were falling and Campbell was losing market share in that area, though its cookie and cracker sales were on the rise.
One of Conant's first acts as CEO was to reorganize the North American arms of the company into two distinct business entities with their own executives—North American Soup and North American Beverages and Sauces. The latter included cookies, crackers, and other prepared foods. Conant made the move to help improve Campbell's soup sales because it allowed for focused strategy and marketing to consumers on the company's primary brand while also giving the company's other products their own emphasis. As part of his three-year plan announced in 2001, Conant increased the amount of money spent on U.S. advertising and laid out new marketing ideas. He also revitalized the company's products—for instance, changing how cream soups were manufactured—and improved the company's technology and its factories.
By 2002, under Conant's leadership, Campbell had expanded soup offerings to include more convenience foods, such as Soup at Hand, which was microwavable, and new soup flavors under the Chunky and Select lines. Despite Conant's best efforts, sales of soup continued to fall through 2003, though stock prices were on the rise in early 2004, primarily because Campbell's snack foods were doing well.
See also entries on Campbell Soup Company, General Mills, Inc., Kraft Inc., and Nabisco Food Group in International Directory of Company Histories .
DeNitto, Emily, "Doug Conant Nabisco Cookies," Advertising Age , July 4, 1994, S16.
"Douglas Conant: In the Soup," BusinessWeek , January 22, 2001, p. 46.
"SN's Power 50 (Part Eight) Manufacturers," Supermarket News , July 21, 2003, p. 64.
"What Campbell's New Chief Needs to Do Now," BusinessWeek , June 25, 2001, p. 60.
Winter, Greg, "Campbell Soup Picks Chief, Playing Down Talk of Sale," New York Times , January 9, 2001.