Campbell Soup’s Fate Hangs on Duel Between Company Heirs and ‘Interloper’

It may be hard to think of a fellow billionaire as an outsider in this milieu, but that’s how Mr. Loeb and Third Point portray their fight with the Dorrance clan. It’s an approach he has used before as an activist investor with a knack for acquiring stakes in companies that have been underperforming. He has previously waged campaigns at Nestlé, Yahoo, Baxter International and Sotheby’s, many of which entailed months of bruising public-relations battles.

Munib Islam, a Third Point partner who is one of the hedge fund’s candidates for a board seat, said Campbell had lost sight of the interests of nonfamily shareholders. The family’s opposition to Third Point, he said, “was on the basis of bloodlines as opposed to what’s good for the company.”

“If they want to run the business that way,” Mr. Islam added, “then take the company private.”

Michael Silverstein, a former food industry consultant with Boston Consulting Group who is advising Third Point, suggested the heirs were a big part of the problem.

“I worked with the family two decades ago,” Mr. Silverstein said. “They are proud of Campbell’s but introverted. They are fearful of outsiders, fearful of their wealth being taken away. More than 100 family members are dependent on the dividend and fearful of what to do.”

Campbell is, of course, fighting headwinds like declining consumer interest in packaged food and a preference for fresh ingredients over highly processed soup from a can. But analysts say the company has done too little to adapt to those changes. Campbell Soup cans, for example, have barely changed since 1900, and the top sellers remain tomato, chicken noodle and cream of mushroom.

Third Point has proposed modernizing labels on Campbell’s trademark red-and-white cans, an icon whose status in American culture was immortalized by Andy Warhol. (One of the artist’s soup can paintings hangs in the company’s boardroom.)