Hershey (NYSE: HSY) has just named its COO Michele Buck as its next president and CEO. Buck, an 11-year veteran at the candy maker, will succeed current CEO John P. Pilbrey in March. Pilbrey had announced his plans to retire in October.

The key facts

During her time at Hershey, Buck diversified the company's portfolio with new products like Krave beef jerky and healthy chocolate brand barkThins. She also oversaw the growth of Hershey's core confectionery brands.

Buck will take the helm during a challenging time for Hershey. The company's sales fell 0.4% to $7.39 billion last year, and it expects just 1% sales growth this year. That anemic growth has been attributed to a market shift toward healthier food, a poorly conceived expansion plan in China, and tough currency headwinds.

Despite those challenges, Hershey's stock rose 16% this year, primarily due to low interest rates fueling the popularity of blue chip dividend stocks, interest from activist investors, and a hostile takeover attempt by Mondelez. The $23 billion deal was rejected by the Milton Hershey Trust, which controls 80% of the company's voting shares.

The road ahead

After becoming Hershey's CEO, Buck will be one of just 25 female executives who run Fortune 500 companies. Other notable female CEOs in Hershey's sector include PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi, Mondelez's Irene Rosenfeld, and Campbell Soup's Denise Morrison.

Looking ahead, it's unclear if Buck will pursue fresh ideas to boost Hershey's sales growth, or if she's more open to a takeover than her predecessor. Either way, she could struggle to justify Hershey's P/E of 30, which is slightly higher than the industry average of 29 for candy makers.

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Leo Sun has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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