The Skinny on Campbell's

What happened first? Was it the Pillsbury dough boy shedding pounds or Betty Crocker getting a makeover? Whatever, the Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB  ) kids were put on a strict diet around the same time and slimmed down considerably from their former pudgy selves.

Slowly, the soup maker has been putting itself on a diet, kicking to the curb brands that don't fit in with its new fresh and fit image. The latest to be put on the auction block is Godiva Chocolatier, the luxury brand it has owned for a surprising four decades. As with a former cigarette smoker, there's no more ardent advocate for living right than someone who has kicked the habit of poor eating. Campbell's is one such advocate these days, but it makes you wonder when the CEO experienced his deathbed conversion.

As the country has grown more health-conscious, it made good marketing sense to offer more healthy foods like Campbell's lower-sodium soups. Even its Pepperidge Farm line of whole grain breads fits in with a nation needing to eat more wholesome fiber. Campbell's V8 juice drink has always been a healthy alternative to sodas, even if it did hook up with Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) to market some new tastes.

Yet it was just last year that Campbell's was crowing about its line of "Indulgent" Godiva drinks, a "decadent" coffee beverage undoubtedly positioned to take on Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) and other purveyors of premium coffee cocktails.

It is true the company has come out with a line of 100-calorie snacks, but that follows Kraft (NYSE: KFT  ) , Kellogg (NYSE: K  ) , and General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) , which have all unveiled lines of 100-calorie cookie packs.

Simply put, fat's no longer where it's at for Campbell's. In its latest quarter, earnings rose 31% to $217 million on the strength of an 8% jump in sales, primarily from soups and the V8 beverages. Chocolate sales have risen by about only 5% annually in recent years, though they reached double digits in North America. Part of that success, though, was achieved through new products -- you guessed it, sugar-free confections, but also a reintroduction of truffles, not exactly a dietetic delight.

Given its $500 million in annual sales, and with analysts estimating a possible price tag of $750 million to $1 billion or more, that's a price-to-sales ratio of just 2, which is in line with Hershey (NYSE: HSY  ) , a possible buyer. Godiva should attract plenty of interest and ultimately prove to be a sweet treat for the soup company.

Kraft is a recommendation of Motley Fool Income Investor, Starbucks is a recommendation of Stock Advisor, and Coca-Cola is an Inside Value pick. The 30-day risk-free trial to any of the Fool's newsletters is a sweet deal no matter how you look at it.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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