by Kim S. Nash

Campbell’s IT Team’s Secret Mission to Sell More Soup

Sep 28, 20123 mins
AnalyticsManufacturing Industry

Sure, soup is good food, but sales ain't what they used to be. To freshen up its product line and serve up innovative new products ASAP, Campbell's IT is building new systems for improved collaboration.

Not only are people taking fewer trips to the grocery store these days, but they also buy less than they used to. Campbell Soup Company knows that customers slipping away would be mm, mm, not good. Campbell also knows that coaxing people to buy more soup will take more innovation than the 90-year-old company has shown in a long time.

Sales at Campbell were $7.7 billion last year, essentially the same as in 2010. The simple meals segment–soups, mainly–dropped 6 percent for the year. CEO Denise Morrison has launched several new product and manufacturing strategies as part of a big push for innovation. “This was not a simple course correction,” Morrison told financial analysts in May.

Campbell’s IT group strives to support the same sales and profitability goal by working with the R&D, supply chain, legal and procurement groups, says Rob Austermehle, vice president of enterprise systems. “We really want to do rapid innovation. That’s where IT can help.” So IT is assessing new systems that would allow Campbell to capture product and process ideas from employees and customers, and to collaborate with outside research groups next year.

Frank Wander, founder of the IT Excellence Institute, a consulting company, says “technology is the engine of innovation,” but often when IT initiates such corporate innovation projects, energy wanes during the later steps in the process. IT must not only set up technology to collect ideas, but also to sort, vet and enact them, he says.

At Campbell, most R&D traditionally happened at its main headquarters, but now the company wants to gather more ideas from more places by tapping consumers and employees globally and partnering with outside researchers, Austermehle says. The company also plans to spend $30 million on a new innovation center at its Pepperidge Farm division. And Austermehle’s team is assessing the potential for an intranet where employees can submit ideas to route to research teams.

For vetting and experimenting, Campbell’s own scientists will work with outside researchers more than in the past, he says. IT will help control that sensitive process with secure access to material and collaboration systems, such as Microsoft Sharepoint.

Campbell has already stretched soup in new directions by making new foods, such as gourmet bisques, and foods to appeal to health concerns, like the desire to eat less sodium. The push also includes packaging old products in new ways to entice people to eat soup in a variety of situations, such as lunch at work and on the go. Starting late this year, Campbell plans to launch new products at double the rate it did in 2011, rolling out 52 new products across its businesses, which, along with Pepperidge Farm baked goods, include Swanson broths, V8 vegetable juice, and Pace and Prego sauces.

“We realized that innovation is something we need to address with structure,” Austermehle says.