Kraft Heinz Co. named 29-year-old former Goldman Sachs banker David Knopf as its next chief financial officer last week, part of a shake-up aimed at reigniting growth at the slumping packaged-food giant.
The changes also included moving current CFO Paulo Basilio to the role of zone president for U.S. operations, tasking him with fixing a challenging domestic business that generates about 70% of its sales. Basilio, 42, will replace Kraft veteran George Zoghbi, though that executive will stay on as a strategic adviser.
Kraft Heinz hasn’t posted sales growth since the company was created in a 2015 merger orchestrated by the private equity firm 3G Capital and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The company is mired in an industrywide slowdown: The largest food companies in the U.S. have lost almost $16 billion in sales over the past three years amid broad shifts in how consumers eat and shop.
Knopf joined Kraft Heinz in July 2015 in connection with the merger and took a number of roles, including vice president of finance and head of global budget planning. In addition to stints at Goldman Sachs and Onex Partners, he previously worked at 3G, which continues to run Kraft Heinz.
The private equity firm often elevates young executives into top roles — an approach it has taken at its other businesses. Restaurant Brands International Inc., which also is backed by 3G, is run by 37-year-old Daniel Schwartz. He was just 32 when he became CEO of Burger King, which later merged with Tim Hortons to create Restaurant Brands. The restaurant chain’s CFO, Josh Kobza, was still in his 20s when he joined the C-suite.
Kraft Heinz, known more for slashing costs than nurturing brands, has tried to update its portfolio to meet changing tastes, adding organic Capri Sun and removing artificial ingredients from Oscar Mayer hot dogs. But growth has been elusive.
To keep its expansion going, Kraft Heinz attempted to acquire Unilever earlier this year for $143 billion. But that offer was rebuffed, partly over concerns of a culture clash between Unilever’s sustainability focus and 3G’s cost-cutting efforts.
Buffett, who remains the top investor in Kraft Heinz, has poured cold water on the idea of renewing the Unilever bid — or making an offer for a U.S. food company like Mondelez International Inc. He told CNBC last month that acquiring a bigger stable of brands alone wouldn’t make a deal worthwhile.