2017 Year in Review: A Year of Change

Perhaps finding new paths to growth was why so many CEOs were replaced this year.

By Food Processing Staff

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Every year brings challenges for the food and beverage industry, and 2017 did not disappoint.

From the surprises – some pleasant and some not so pleasant – of the Trump presidency to acquisitions to new CEOs at some of the largest companies, change remained a constant in this business.

At least no significant food and beverage company declared bankruptcy this year, to our knowledge. That's remarkable.

In the midst of all this, the biggest companies grappled with how to revive top-line growth. Their sales have been on the decline for two or three years. For most, the answer was to buy emerging companies with squeaky-clean images in promising categories. Some big companies merely made investments in smaller companies: Starting your own venture capital fund became quite the trendy thing to do for many. Outside of the processed/packaged food circle, a popular spot for some of those investments was in meal delivery companies – most of which are still looking to turn their first profit.

Kind of a reverse of that thinking was the blockbuster, $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon. Although its full impact hasn't yet been felt, its intersection of organic foods, home delivery and e-commerce has all the major food & beverage companies nervous.

There's always been churn at the top of food companies, but this much structural change seems to have sped up the revolving door. Whether longtime, "traditional" food CEOs were tired of all this change or their companies grew tired of them, there were new top names at:

  • Tyson Foods: Tom Hayes replaced Donnie Smith as CEO.
  • Coca-Cola: James Quincey took the CEO job from Muhtar Kent, who remains chairman. J. Alexander (Sandy) Douglas, longtime president of Coca-Cola's North American unit, is retiring, to be replaced by James Dinkins.
  • General Mills: Jeff Harmening replaced Ken Powell as CEO and will take his chairman job when he retires on Dec. 31.
  • Mondelez: Dirk Van de Put replaces retiring Irene Rosenfeld, who created the company out of Kraft Foods.
  • McCain Foods: As a result of the above, Max Koeune fills the void left by Van de Put's departure.
  • Kellogg: Steve Cahillane replaces John Bryant as CEO.
  • Hershey: Michele Buck takes over as CEO from J.P. Bilbrey.
  • Weston Foods: Luc Mongeau is named CEO.
  • AdvancePierre Foods: Chris Sliva left TreeHouse to become CEO, replacing John Simons…only to assist in selling the company to Tyson.
  • Snyder's-Lance: Carl Lee Jr. left suddenly, unexplicably; Brian Driscoll was named CEO after acting in that role for a few months.
  • Blue Bell Creameries: After recovering from a nasty 2015 listeria incident, Ricky Dickson became the first non-Kruse family member to lead the company, replacing Paul Kruse.

Aside from that Amazon-Whole Foods deal, there were no real blockbuster mergers or acquisitions during 2017. As noted above, Tyson bought AdvancePierre for $4.2 billion. Danone completed its 2016 acquisition of WhiteWave for $12.5 billion, subsequently renaming its North American business DanoneWave and also selling Stonyfield Farm to Lactalis to satisfy antitrust concerns. Post Holdings, as usual, was acquisitive, paying $1.76 billion for mostly British Weetabix and then $1.5 billion for the manufacturing business of Bob Evans. McCormick won a bidding war for Reckitt-Benckiser's food business, which includes Frank's Red Hot Sauce, French's mustard and Cattlemen's barbecue sauce.

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