Keller, who left Netherlands-based JDE Peet’s in September because his family could not relocate overseas during the pandemic, has the kind of expertise that B&G Foods can use to continue building its brands and reputation, as well as weather the ongoing financial storm.
“Casey is a food and beverage industry veteran with excellent leadership skills and a proven track record of generating revenue and earnings growth,” Stephen Sherrill, B&G’s chairman, said in a written statement.
Keller, who can help lead growth and brand turnarounds, has a skill set that fits in with B&G’s long-term strategy. But he’s also worked on every side of big M&A deals, from making an acquisition to helping an organization merge into a new company.
At Peet’s, he helped the company grow in the United States, as well as led an expansion to China. During the pandemic, JDE Peet’s quickly built up its CPG business and e-commerce offerings — growth that Keller said in an earnings call last August largely offset losses at its coffee shops and away from home locations.
At Wrigley, Keller is known for injecting new life into the gum category. He told the Chicago Tribune in 2015 that success came from going back to the core of the business: cutting back on the plethora of varieties, investing in advertising and putting more emphasis in making products that played up the fun aspect of gum.
At B&G Foods, a company that is known for being a serial acquirer, someone with Keller’s M&A experience is also helpful. He’s worked at key positions in big acquisitions — CEO at Peet’s during the Jacobs Douwe Egberts merger and global president at Wrigley during the Mars merger — but he’s also been with smaller companies that have been bought by big ones. He was president of personal care company Alberto Culver USA when it was acquired by Unilever in 2011.
There is much for Keller to do as he takes the reins at B&G. In the earnings report released at the same time as the hiring announcement, B&G reported its net sales were up 12.4% to $505.1 million in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period a year ago. The company said it sees challenges from inflation, the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues, and could not provide guidance beyond sales for the rest of 2021.
A poor growing season last year and dramatically increased demand have made Green Giant products — the company’s biggest brand — in short supply. In Tuesday’s earnings call, Wenner said these issues led to a 16.4% drop in sales for the brand in the most recent quarter, compared to last year. He noted the issue wasn’t with demand, but with supply. Keller will need to make sure Green Giant can increase output and ensure the brand is top of mind for consumers.
Inflation and supply chain costs also threaten to hurt B&G. In December, the company completed the $550 million acquisition of Crisco from J.M. Smucker. Wenner said on the earnings call that the brand’s sales in the quarter hit $58 million — accounting for nearly all of B&G Foods’ sales growth in that period.
The cost of the oils used to make Crisco has doubled in the last year, which could prove challenging when it comes to pricing. Wenner said the company has already done what it can to hedge this increase, but expects commodity and packaging costs to grow in the near term. Strong leadership from Keller will be important to control cost increases — and let consumers know why they are happening.