H J Heinz faces battles on two fronts today as shareholders meet in Pittsburgh for a stormy annual general meeting.
Unions are threatening a boycott of products in a campaign against Heinz's £190 million cost-cutting programme which will see 2,700 jobs lost, including 125 at the HP Sauce factory in Birmingham.
Rebels led by billionaire investor Nelson Peltz and including golfer Greg Norman will be fighting to take five seats on the board.
They want an even more aggressive cost-cutting programme combined with better marketing of Heinz brands.
Executives say the dissidents' proposals would cripple the company and have urged shareholders to support its incumbent directors and the existing retrenchment plan.
The war of words between the two has been one of the most bitter in US corporate history.
They will square up today at the Pittsburgh Hilton hotel where Heinz has booked a room for 850 people.
Asked how many people he expected to attend, company spokesman Michael Mullen said: "It's a crapshoot. No one knows."
The vast majority of votes will be cast ahead of the meeting by institutional investors who speak for the bulk of the company's 330 million shares. But it will take at least a month to independently certify the results.
Trian, Mr Peltz's investment company, has accused chief executive William Johnson of mismanagement and failing to lift Heinz' slumping stock price, while Heinz has warned that Mr Peltz is acting out of self-interest and could rip the company from its Pittsburgh roots in a drive for quick profit.
Mr Peltz says he is a long-term shareholder and wants to work with Mr Johnson and his management team.
Heinz has acknowledged that its performance has been weak but said it had improved in recent years after renewing its focus on core products such as ketchup and baked beans.
Trian owns a 5.5 per cent stake in Heinz, making it the company's second-largest shareholder behind mutual f und company Capital Research & Management, which owns about 12 per cent of the stock.
Whatever the outcome of today's AGM, the row has put some beef back into Heinz's shares, which have risen by 20 per cent to $42 a share in the last six months after a fall of some 32 per cent over the previous seven years.
"I think, in this one, management is being forced to listen," said Stephen Davis of Connecticut-based Davis Global Advisors, which publishes the weekly Global Proxy Watch newsletter.
"The Heinz that emerges after this annual meeting will not be the Heinz we saw six months ago. It'll be a better company."
That's assuming trade unions fighting plans to close five factories in Europe, including Aston, do not carry out their threat to "ruin" the company's brands.
John Jordan, a negotiator for the Transport and General Workers' Union, has warned of a campaign to persuade consumers to boycott Heinz if it goes ahead with its plan to switch HP Sauce production to Holland.
"If they go ahead with this we will do our very best to ruin their brands," he said.
The T&GWU has enlisted the support of the powerful Teamsters union in the US.