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Campbell Soup A Success In Russia, China

Soup maker launched its efforts in Russia and China last year to get access to customers who already eat a lot of soup -- nearly all of it homemade.

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. (AP) -- The Campbell Soup Co. has bought Wolfgang Puck's premium soup company and said Tuesday that it is persuading shoppers in the major soup markets of China and Russia to cook with Campbell products.

As the company tries to recover from a fiscal third quarter that fell short of analyst expectations, Campbell also announced changes to its existing product lines.

Campbell launched its efforts in Russia and China last year to get access to customers who already eat a lot of soup -- nearly all of it homemade.

In the Moscow area, it sells the Domashnaya Klassica line of broths with chunks of chicken, beef and mushrooms, and the company hopes to persuade cooks there to use Campbell products to make their recipes faster. It's pursuing a similar strategy in China's Guangdong province with Swanson-brand broths.

Campbell has used television commercials and supermarket demonstrations to build awareness of what it sees as a new concept in cooking in Russia and China.

In Russia, the company said, 70 percent of the people who try Campbell products buy them again.

The company did not give specific sales figures but said the launches are going well enough to expand in both countries.

"Everything that we see today reaffirms our belief that Russia and China are ready to convert to commercial soup," said Larry McWilliams, president of Campbell's international division.

Campbell President and CEO Douglas Conant said the company does not expect the new markets to be profitable until it has been in them three to five years.

The acquisition of the Wolfgang Puck soup business, announced Tuesday, quickly expands the company's organic soup options.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but Campbell said the cash deal with Country Gourmet Foods will not have a material effect on its fiscal 2009 financial results.

Campbell entered into a licensing agreement with Wolfgang Puck Worldwide Inc. to use the Wolfgang Puck brand on soup, stock and broth products in North America. The deal includes an option to extend the brand into other related categories and channels.

Campbell says the acquisition and licensing agreement extend the company's offerings in the growing organic and natural segment of the market.

Denise Morrison, president of Campbell's North America soup, sauces and beverages division, says the newly acquired soups help meet the company's dual goals of adding healthy and premium foods.

She said the Puck line would not include a Campbell's brand, but that distribution of it would expand.

Morrison also said that the company's line of higher-end Select Gold Label soups that come in boxes will soon be sold as V8 soups, using a Campbell brand that has performed well in the last few years.

Campbell stock was trading late Tuesday afternoon at $33.95, up 49 cents or 1.5 percent. Those gains came after the stock jumped up more than 4 percent on Monday as the company said it expected annual profit growth at the high end of its previous projection of 5 to 7 percent.