What Happened to Trump's Oreo Obsession?

  • President-elect goes after firms he knocked during campaign
  • Snack giant Mondelez hoping to avoid political controversy

Kaplan: Trump Acting Like 'Transactional' President

Hey, what about the Oreo?

During the campaign, Mondelez International Inc., the owner of the iconic cookie brand, was one of the companies that President-elect Donald Trump railed against for sending jobs overseas, alongside the likes of Ford, Carrier and Boeing.

But while those other three have already had post-election run-ins with Trump in one fashion or another -- triggering wild stock gyrations and corporate pledges to rework investment plans -- Mondelez curiously has not. Given the president-elect’s current tweeting pace, it feels like it’s just a matter of time before the company comes back under scrutiny.

Mondelez wasn’t interested in discussing its game plan for when that moment comes, but experts said it undoubtedly has scrambled to prepare a rapid-fire response.

“The last thing they want to do is have a brand out there being attacked,” said Richard Frisch, a crisis-communications consultant. “There’s no question they have a crisis plan in place.”

The stakes are high. Last month, when Trump wrote on Twitter that the costs of the F-35 program were “out of control,” shares of defense manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. tanked, wiping out almost $2 billion in market value.

“We’ve never had a president-elect who could move stocks at will,” said Richard Levick, founder of the communications firm that bears his name. “A Trump tweet rates among the top risks of the year.”

‘Never Eat’

When a company makes nice, on the other hand, it can be rewarded. Ford Motor Co.’s stock rose nearly 4 percent after it announced it was canceling a $1.6 billion Mexican expansion.

Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mondelez first drew Trump’s ire back in August 2015, when he claimed that the company was eliminating 1,200 jobs in the U.S. as it moved Oreo production to Mexico. “I’ll never eat them again,” Trump vowed.

His assertion wasn’t quite true. The global snack giant had decided to invest $130 million in an existing plant south of the border to upgrade cookie and cracker production, rather than putting the money into a factory in Chicago. The move eliminated approximately 600 positions.

Stephen Colbert

Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton soon jumped on, too, and The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert mocked Trump’s vow not to eat Oreos by shoveling them into his mouth one night. But the controversy eventually faded into the background.

Mondelez, which generates more than 70 percent of its revenue outside North America, said it has invested about $450 million in U.S. manufacturing facilities since 2012, when the company split from Kraft Foods. The company still produces Oreos, the world’s top-selling cookie, at three domestic facilities.

“We continue to make investments where it makes sense and that includes the United States,” said Laurie Guzzinati, a spokeswoman for the Deerfield, Illinois-based snack maker. She said the company hasn’t heard from the incoming administration.

Mondelez might be better positioned than, say, Boeing Co. or Ford, to resist the pressure of a Trump tweet. It isn’t a big government contractor -- making planes for the military, for instance -- and getting consumers to boycott a favorite snack is difficult. That could weaken Trump’s ability to have a lasting negative impact on the $26.5 billion company, according to Frisch.

Still, that may be little comfort. Large food companies tend to be conservative, perpetually seeking to stay away from controversy, particularly of the political variety. And in this unprecedented atmosphere, where the next squabble with the federal government is seemingly just a click away, Mondelez executives are hoping to avoid the glare of Trump’s aggressive Twitter persona.

“If you’re Mondelez,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, “the last thing you want is to be a target of Donald Trump."

(Corrects to specify that Lockheed Martin lost $2 billion in its market value, not its market share, in sixth paragraph.)
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