A Plea to Campbell’s to Step Down From the Manufacturing Council

UPDATE: Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell’s, resigned from the President’s Manufacturing Council on the morning of August 16, 2017. Shortly after the resignation of other CEOs (9 in total), the council was disbanded.

With the utmost respect for the incredible leadership role they have taken in the food industry, this is a plea for Campbell’s to step down from the President’s Manufacturing Council.

I realize that this may be viewed as a political statement, but I truly believe that it goes beyond that.  As someone who was raised in a Republican family, whose grandfather fought the Nazi invasion in World War II and whose parents met in Vietnam during the war, I write it with the deepest sincerity.

Campbell’s landed in hot soup this week with a statement that their CEO would remain on the President’s Manufacturing Council. It surprised many, as the company has been a leader and champion for change over the last year.

But due to horrific circumstances over the last week, three CEOs quit the council due to purpose and principles. As a fourth CEO quit today, calls for Campbell’s to #quitthecouncil have intensified, especially in light of the fact the only CEO called out for quitting was the CEO of Merck, an African-American.

Campbell’s issued a statement this morning, and not surprisingly, social media threw up when the company stated that it would remain on the Council.

Two other CEOs resigned earlier this year, due to principles around issues relevant to consumers and their industry (Elon Musk and Robert Iger).

While four more CEOs resigned due to principles, Campbell’s chose to stay on the team.

The irony is that the same reasons that Campbells gave when they announced that they were pulling out of the Grocery Manufactures Association are the ones that were missing from their statement today.

When Campbell’s announced that they would leave the Grocery Manufacturers Association in July of this year, many defended the company’s decision to leave based on the statement they issued which highlighted “purpose and principles.” As noted in July across social media,

  • Speaking at the annual investor day at the company’s Camden, New Jersey headquarters, Campbell’s CEO said the food manufacturer’s decision to leave was “not a financial decision” but one that was driven by the company’s “purpose and … principles” of being forthcoming with consumers — especially millennials — who are interested in knowing where their food comes from and how it’s raised.
  • “As we continue to evolve as a purpose-driven company, many of our beliefs have diverged from the rest of the food industry and from our trade association,” she told the audience. “We had the experience of finding ourselves at odds with some of the positions.”

Which is why it is increasingly difficult for consumers to swallow today’s news.

Is not the same thing true here? To leave the group based on “purpose and principals” because their values no longer align?

Because if it isn’t, Campbell’s stand to lose more than face and a social media uprising.

Right now, the allergic reaction occurring across social media is intensifying. #quitthecouncil is the hashtag that consumers have taken up to reach business leaders, along with others, specifically targeting Campbell’s. We have seen this type of reaction across social media many times before (one only has to think back to United Airlines). The company runs the risk of alienating not only their soup can holders, but also shareholders, spoon holders and stakeholders and in their own words, “especially millenials.”

There is no room for hatred or bigotry in our country or in our food system.

The ability to recruit the best and the brightest to help rebuild this industry is not just a financial decision for millenials. MBAs look to leader’s values, principles and purpose when weighing a career decision.

Campbell’s has been an incredible leader over the last few years inside of the food industry.

Consumers and business leaders around the country are now urging Campbell’s to remove themselves from this council, as Campbell’s did from the GMA, as a “purpose-driven company” based on “principles.”

I am one of them.

When the history books are written, it will be crystal clear who took a stand against bigotry and hate. There is no nuance here, no tightrope to walk.

Bigotry and hatred are toxic ingredients in any system, especially our food system, which is so dependent on our nation’s diversity from farmland to fork.

I understand that so many factors must be weighed. Campbell’s brand is iconic, but what is happening on social media is truly an allergic reaction to its current position.  I hate seeing this, knowing how much courage it has taken to lead over the last year.. 
There are so many of us standing by, to help Campbell’s continue to lead, to shape and influence policy in the years to come.   As we have seen over the last several years, that change and leadership has come from the marketplace not DC.  Policy will always follow the money. 
The question in front of the brand today, in light of horrific circumstances is: When the history books are written, will Campbell’s stand with those who #quitthecouncil due to principle? Because there is only one torch to be carried for our country.