Sara Lee taps Campbell Soup exec for key role

AP News
Posted: Jan 06, 2012 10:32 AM
Sara Lee taps Campbell Soup exec for key role

Sara Lee Corp. has named a Campbell Soup Co. executive to head up its North American retail and food service business, which is being split from the food maker's international coffee and tea business.

Sara Lee announced on Friday that Sean Connolly will serve as CEO of MeatCo, which is what the North American business will be called once it's separated from the beverages business. The separation will create two public companies and is expected to be completed during the second quarter.

Sara Lee's brands include Ball Park, Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, Pickwick Teas, Senseo as well as Sara Lee.

Connolly succeeds Sara Lee CEO Marcel Smits, who has been running the North American business since September and steps down now that a permanent executive has been named. Connolly's position is effective on Jan. 17.

Executive Chairman Jan Bennink said in a statement that Sara Lee chose Connolly in part because of his "extensive experience in the American food industry, coupled with a strong track record as a great innovator, particularly in mature categories."

"These strengths will allow him to take a fresh look at the business and enable the company to reach its full potential," Bennink said.

Sara Lee's personnel announcement comes three days after the company said that it has purchased Tea Forte to enhance its foothold in the fast-growing tea business. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Connolly, 46, currently serves as president of Campbell North America, which is the soup maker's biggest unit and comprises about $4.6 billion in annual revenue. He has served in the position since October 2010.

Before that, Connolly was president of Campbell USA and president of North American Foodservice. Connolly started with Campbell Soup as vice president of food brands in 2002.

Prior to joining Campbell Soup, Connolly held various roles at consumer products company Procter & Gamble Co.

Campbell Soup, which is based in Camden, N.J., has named Mark Alexander, 47, as Connolly's successor. He currently serves as president of Campbell International, handling the company's businesses in Europe, Latin America and the Asia Pacific region.

Campbell North America includes Campbell's North America Soup, Sauces and Beverages business, Campbell Canada, and Campbell's North America Food Service business. Campbell Soup's brands include Pepperidge Farm, Arnott's, V8 and Campbell's.

Alexander, who joined Campbell Soup in 1989, takes on the role on Jan. 16.

Sara Lee shares slipped 2 cents to $18.85 in morning trading Friday, while Campbell Soup's stock dropped 12 cents to $31.69 per share.