New Jersey residents would have gladly accepted a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup last week after shoveling out from Winter Storm Jonas.
But had it been Campbell’s, you might’ve ended up with Homestyle Mexican-Style Chicken Tortilla Soup instead. And thankful for it.
Tom Griffiths — a certified master chef and global vice president of Campbell Soup Co.’s Culinary and Baking Institute in Camden — has been shaking up the 147-year-old company’s portfolio with new flavors and internationally inspired meals since he was hired in 2010.
As authentic as ever, one thing is clear: The predictable Campbell products of our childhoods are exactly that — in the past.
“About six years ago, Campbell leadership decided its chefs were not being leveraged as much as they could be,” Griffiths said. “I was hired to create that culinary voice.”
Today, Griffiths and his team at the institute are one of Campbell’s strongest competitive advantages and a big part of the $8 billion in annual sales the global food company generates.
“We really have an interest in making the food more delicious,” Griffiths said.
Not to mention, keeping the company current with today’s business models.
So far, he has been helping the company do just that.
Top 10 food themes
Campbell Soup Co.’s third annual Culinary TrendScape lists the top 10 influential food themes for 2016:
Griffiths was hired in February 2010, nearly 10 months after Campbell Soup hit a low stock price of $24.87, which is equivalent to $20.22 when dividends are factored in.
Since Griffiths’ hiring, Campbell’s stock has essentially more than doubled, to more than $55 on Jan. 26.
To be clear, it has been a team effort in the kitchen.
After previously serving as the associate dean of advanced global cuisines at the renowned Culinary Institute of America, Griffiths now manages 10 chefs and about 40 “culinologists” — those with both culinary and food science degrees — in Camden; seven chefs at Pepperidge Farm’s headquarters in Connecticut; two chefs in California, one at Bolthouse Farms and the other at Plum Organics; one chef at Garden Fresh Gourmet in Michigan; three chefs in Australia, who cook for Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia; and one chef and culinologist in Toronto.
“We have one of the most highly credentialed culinary and research and development teams in North America,” Griffiths said.
Their job is to not only increase Campbell’s culinary portfolio, but also to expand the company’s presence worldwide.
“(For example), we might hire an expert on paella to come in and teach us about the gastronomy of Spain and send a chef to Washington, D.C., or even Barcelona to study and learn that paella can sometimes include rabbit or snails, has a certain kind of rice or that authentic paella is cooked on an open fire over pine cones and lemon trees — all in the name of coming up with an authentic paella recipe,” Griffiths said.
That recipe is then tested in different markets, with scientists and chefs, before Griffith’s team heads to the grocery store with consumers in mind.
“We’ll purchase every paella we can in order to build a gold standard for consumers based upon our authentic paella recipe — which, perhaps does or does not include rabbit or escargot,” Griffiths said.
At this time last year, Campbell Soup Co. in Camden was undergoing a hefty reorganization:
Rather than continue to be organized by geographies or brand groups, the businesses would be managed within three divisions structured by product categories: Americas Simple Meals and Beverages (Campbell Soup Co., Plum Organics); Global Biscuits and Snacks (Pepperidge Farm, Arnott’s and Kelsen businesses); and Packaged Fresh (Bolthouse Farms).
CEO Denise Morrison had hoped the reorganization would help the company focus on sustainable growth and expansion into new categories, segments, channels and geographies.
“Our industry faces global economic realities with a shrinking American middle class and a growing one in developing markets; major demographic changes, including continued growth of millennial and Hispanic cohorts in the U.S. and a redefinition of the American family; profound changes in consumer preferences for food with increased focus on health and well-being, fresh and organic; and the game-changing impact of digital technologies,” Morrison said in the 2015 annual report. “Traditional food companies have felt the impact for several years. In calendar 2014, on the heels of many of these changes, the industry’s average net sales growth rate slowed to only 1 (to) 2 percent. In response, companies have initiated a series of strategic actions, from spinoffs and consolidation to acquisitions and aggressive cost-cutting.”
It’s why the company’s purpose — “Real food that matters for life’s moments” — has, according to Morrison, spurred “the single most important cultural change in her time” at Campbell.
“Today, everyone at Campbell is thinking, talking and acting differently about our food — from how it is grown and the ingredients we select to how we prepare our foods and the type of acquisitions we pursue,” she said.
As part of the institute’s Culinary Trends Monitoring Program — which tracks emerging culinary trends and leverages them as inspiration for new Campbell products — Griffith’s team members attend immersion tours and conferences and work in restaurants to network with highly influential chefs.
Their research has not only helped Campbell introduce bold, new flavors, but has also helped educate others as an expert leader in the industry.
“Our chefs will go and meet with other chefs and their leadership teams to present our Culinary TrendScape,” Griffiths said. “It is a viable asset for them.”
The third annual Culinary TrendScape — a report tracking the Top 10 influential food themes for 2016 — has indeed influenced several of Campbell Soup Co.’s newer products.
“We’ve been studying Thai food for three or four years, so this year, we have an authentic Thai Curry Chicken skillet sauce,” Griffiths said.
“We may not always come out with a product immediately, but we are always learning so that we can be proactive about it.”
For example, Griffiths views Latin-inspired food and regional Mexican cuisine as being highly influential on Campbell products in the near future.
“I recently sent several chefs down to Mexico to spend five days learning authentic ways to make moles and salsas,” he said.
It sounds costly — and, Griffiths admits, it is. But while it may initially cost more to use higher-level ingredients in Campbell recipes, Griffith and his team work hard to find ways to make it affordable for the company and its consumers.
“If we are studying French revival, for example, I wouldn’t want a chef to say, ‘Why bother making lobster bisque? Lobsters are expensive.’ That defeats the purpose of our strategy — to educate and inspire,” Griffiths said. “Whatever we do, we need to start at the beginning in order to achieve an authentic gold standard. It may be an inexpensive bean soup or it may be seafood bisque, but, regardless, we’re still going to discover that authentic recipe and create its gold standard. Then, it will evolve over time to be more affordable and delicious.”
Griffiths — one of only 67 master chefs in the world to be certified by the American Culinary Federation — would stake his reputation on his work at Campbell.
“I could inspire and mentor maybe 1,000 students in a year, but I now have the opportunity to literally feed the world delicious food,” he said. “That is a legacy.”
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On Twitter: @megfry3
(Editor’s note: After this report was published, representatives of Campbell Soup Co. stated that the company’s stock price has risen over time due to a variety of factors, including but not limited to the addition of master chef Tom Griffiths.)