The CEO and president of Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. has been fired for violating the company’s policy against harassment, officials said.
Bobby J. Chacko was terminated Monday, according to a company spokesman.
“At Ocean Spray, we have pledged to hold everyone accountable and ensure that every decision is made in the best interest of the cooperative,” board chairman Peter Dhillon said in a news release. “It should be noted that Bobby Chacko helped to right the ship at Ocean Spray and set us on a new path. However, no matter how valuable someone’s contributions may be, we simply cannot accept a violation of our company policy.”
Chacko joined Ocean Spray in 2017 as senior vice president and chief global growth officer after a long food industry career at companies including Mars Inc. and the Coca-Cola Co. He was elevated to the role of chief executive in March of 2018, following the departure of longtime chief Randy Papadellis.
Attempts to reach Chacko on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Chacko assumed the role at a challenging time for the farmer-owned cooperative, which has struggled to deal with a surplus of cranberries in the market. Farmers are seeing the cost per barrel drop significantly, and are wrangling with a consumer shift away from drinking juice. Recent US trade wars have only further complicated matters.
In response to these pressures, Chacko relocated the company’s innovation and marketing teams to “The Lighthouse,” a new office situated inside a WeWork in the Seaport. That division has been working to quickly create and bring new cranberry-based products to market, and in October of last year, it launched its first stand-alone brand, Atoka, as a way to tap into the wellness industry.
“To be fair to Bobby, he was thrust into an environment where the company’s financials were tanking,” said one former employee who requested anonymity because they still work in the industry. At the time the farmers were angry that they had to take on the pain of the financial downturn.
But Chacko’s path to growth involved installing an aggressive leadership team that oversaw significant staffing cuts, according to two former employees who were not authorized to speak on the record. Several posts on the job review site Glassdoor also speak to high turnover at the company.
“They came in and went around and said this organization is too soft, and we’re going to toughen everybody up,” said another former employee who also still works in the industry and requested anonymity.
The company held discussions with its growers on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the decision behind Chacko’s departure and its plan for going forward.
“The management team was very confident in its ability to continue taking the cooperative along its current path and continuing along the upward trend,” said Hilary Sandler, the director of the UMass Cranberry Station, a research laboratory that is part of the Ocean Spray co-op.
The company’s board of directors tapped James D. White to serve as interim CEO. A search for a permanent CEO is underway, officials said in the release.
“In James White, we have an interim CEO who has served as a Board Adviser and is well acquainted with the growth plan we have laid out,” said Dhillon. “Combine that knowledge with his remarkable track record at other leading brands, including in the beverage space, and we believe James is ideally suited to keep Ocean Spray on a path to success in the immediate future.”
White previously served as chairman, president and CEO of Jamba Juice. He also held senior executive positions at Safeway, Gillette, Nestlé-Purina, and Coca-Cola.
“I have total confidence in the team and tremendous respect for the growers and families who have built this extraordinary cooperative over the past 90 years," White said in the news release. "Together we will keep the business moving forward on the path to success.”