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Campbell Soup missed out on one amazing opportunity to get into the surging cannabis industry

Brian Sozzi

The can stuffing executives at Campbell Soup (CPB) never quite grasped being in the business of selling fresh food via the pricey acquisition that was BoltHouse Farms.

And now the iconic soup maker is going to miss out on a golden opportunity to offset weak sales of its prized product, that is unless it wants to infuse its soups with cannabis (highly unlikely). Earlier this year, amid pressure from noted activist investor Dan Loeb at Third Point, Campbell Soup unloaded BoltHouse Farms (and its now former CEO Denise Morrison) to focus on soup and snacks. BoltHouse Farms CEO Jeff Dunn and Butterfly Equity — where Dunn is an operating partner — bought back BoltHouse Farms from Campbell Soup in April for $510 million.

Dunn tells Yahoo Finance the company is poised to launch at least 25 CBD-infused products this coming January. Two of the products, Dunn says, will be in the coffee and juice categories. To be sure, Dunn and his team at BoltHouse Farms have moved quickly to hit the reset button on the business.

In a photo taken March 6, 2009 in Minneapolis, a pear-merlot juice blend from Bolthouse Farms is shown. The drink will become the first consumer product to hit grocery stores this month containing Cargill's Barliv barley betafiber. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Campbell Soup acquired BoltHouse Farms in 2012 for a heady $1.55 billion. Dunn led BoltHouse Farms as CEO from 2008 to 2012 and then joined Campbell Soup to lead its new fresh division after the acquisition closed. The goal was simple: diversify Campbell Soup out of the less trafficked center aisle of supermarkets and into the more trafficked fresh food department. BoltHouse Farms was a well-known name across juice drinks, salad dressings and carrots.

But without question, Campbell Soup badly mangled BoltHouse leading to a steady stream of valuation write-downs. Dunn left in 2016, after it was clear Campbell Soup didn’t grasp how to run a business so tethered to real ingredients and farms.

“Entrepreneurial businesses when bought by bigger companies keeping that entrepreneurial spirit is always tough, and you have seen lots of examples of that. And second, we were a fresh and agricultural business — that was completely different from what Campbell Soup was used to. A fresh business requires a completely different management approach and the challenges they had after me and my team left, was really that difference,” Dunn explained, referring to his time inside Campbell Soup.

Dunn says he is focused on making the company into a plant-based food powerhouse. Besides developing new plant-based products such as the milk currently in stores, BoltHouse may go onto partner with leaders in the category (we see you, Beyond Meat) to help boost supplies. After all, BoltHouse has decades of experience in farming.

It’s onward and upward for Dunn.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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