Souped-up sales engine

Thanks to versatility, value and an ever-expanding array of new varieties and packaging that meet customer needs, shelf-stable soup remains a powerful driver of center store sales.

“It’s amazing what soup can do.”

Not only is that statement the current slogan of industry-leader Campbell Soup Co., but it speaks volumes about the category overall. Soup can boost center store and perimeter department sales when merchandised as a quick, nutritious meal, meal component or ingredient in an easy-to-prepare recipe.

“At Campbell, our team is focused on making soup more relevant than ever for today’s consumers—both for our core soup consumers and for new consumer groups,” says Eric Christianson, vice president-eating, at Camden, N.J.-based Campbell. “You will see us engage and grow with increasingly important demographic groups, with a heightened focus on breakthrough innovation in products and packaging.”

Officials for Progresso, the No. 2 soup brand, say adding value is key. “The soup category thrives when the industry creates value by focusing on marketing consumer benefits,” says Allen Gerten, Progresso marketing manager for new products at Minneapolis-based General Mills.

The soup category is a powerhouse, accounting for $4 billion in sales in supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandisers (excluding Walmart) for the 52-weeks ended April 15, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm. Condensed wet soup remains the category’s largest sector with $1.2 billion in sales, up 1.1%, although unit volume fell 4.8% to 981.2 million cans.

Sales of ready-to-serve soups fell 4% during the same period to $1.3 billion, while volume fell 10.7% to 708.3 million cans. Manufacturers are hoping to turn those declines into positives with innovative new products launching just in time for the upcoming winter season.

“The products we are launching are reaching consumers across life stages, life styles and meal occasions,” says Christianson. “We will have new offerings for ‘lunch at home’ with new on-trend flavors, ‘lunch at work’ with new microwavable options, ‘dinner at home’ with new restaurant-quality offerings, and a new line of RTS soups targeting Millennials.”

That is Campbell’s GO platform, which promises “take-out taste in minutes” and targets Millennials with soups in pouch packaging in distinctive flavors such as Coconut Curry and Moroccan Chicken. “This line will tap into the nearly $200 billion dinner segment with a consumer proposition that is unique, convenient and delicious,” Christianson says.
Also new from Campbell’s is Campbell’s Gourmet Bisques with varieties such as Thai Tomato Coconut, two additions to its Slow Kettle line, and bold new flavors such as Kickin’ Buffalo-style Chicken soup being added to the Chunky line.

Progresso added two flavors to its popular Progresso Light soups line. “We’ve learned that consumers can feel slighted when they have to give up great tasting—and filling—foods when managing their weight,” says Gerten. “So our product developers created new light soups with a cream base that deliver tastes that replicate indulgent foods like Chicken Pot Pie and Bacon with Potato.”

Progresso is also building the category through its Progresso Recipe Starters cooking sauces that are merchandised in the soup aisle (see sidebar). “Our goal is to provide inspiration and solutions for families to ‘up the ante’ on weeknight dinners,” says Gerten. “With simple ingredients like pasta or rice, meat or chicken and these sauces, we provide a head start to home-cooked meals. Recipe Starters can be used year-round.”

Seafood pepper pot
In addition to creating new products manufacturers are retooling the old ones to make them fit today’s consumers.

“We are in the process of going through and trying to reformulate some of our condensed soups to bring them more in-line with today’s consumer expectations, including lowering the sodium or making some gluten-free, while trying to maintain the same taste profile,” says Sean O’Neil, president, Bookbinder Specialties, the Media, Pa.-based manufacturer of Bookbinder’s soups.

As an example he cites the new all-natural and gluten-free Southwestern Clam & Corn Chowder. Bookbinder’s other top soups are Lobster Bisque, Snapper, New England Clam Chowder, Shrimp Bisque and Oyster Stew.

“We also recently brought back our Seafood Pepper Pot,” O’Neil says. “It was a product that was discontinued years ago, but then Campbell’s discontinued their Pepper Pot and we had so many calls and letters requesting it that we brought it out of retirement.” The original recipe was high in sodium. “We reformulated it and cut the sodium to one-third,” he says.

Bookbinder also has a line of gourmet soups packaged in glass jars that have quickly developed a following. “Without question, the most economical way of packaging shelf-stable soup is the can, but what we found out through market research was that our target demographic was looking for convenience and portion control. That is two things that cans do not deliver,” O’Neil says, adding that Bookbinder worked closely with Owens-Illinois to develop a perfect glass mold. “The added benefit of glass is that consumers can see what they are buying.”

Alternative packaging is also helping Original SoupMan brand soups stand out on the shelf. In its case it is 17.3-ounce Tetra cartons. The New York-based company, which operates the SoupMan restaurants modeled after a popular Seinfeld character, has just introduced Lobster Bisque, Lentil, Chicken Noodle and Tomato Bisque to the soup aisle.

“Our soups are chunkier and thicker than most soups in the marketplace,” says Seb Rametta, executive vice president and founder. “We went with the Tetra cartons because we couldn’t realize the quality of our soups in another form. Cans have to be retorted at a higher temperatures and everything sort of gets emulsified, whereas we have big chunks of ingredients. You want to know what those ingredients are when you bite into them.”


Taking stock

Excitement is brewing in the once-staid broth category.

Campbell Soup Co.’s Swanson brand is livening up the stock and broth set with several innovative products. According to Campbell officials, Swanson Flavor Boost concentrated broth adds the rich flavor of Swanson broth to dishes without the liquid. Each .49-ounce pouch contains the flavor equivalent of one cup of traditional Swanson liquid broth. Swanson Flavor Boost is available in Chicken, Beef Seafood and Vegetable flavors.

The packaging has been redesigned so each carton contains four packets and has a suggested retail price of $1.99.

Secret sauce
Making a home-cooked meal is easier than ever now that General Mills has introduced Progresso Recipe Starters Cooking Sauces.

With a suggested retail of $2.49 and merchandised in the canned soup aisle, Progresso Recipe Starters are available in five varieties: Creamy Roasted Garlic with Chicken Stock; Fire Roasted Tomato; Creamy Parmesan Basil; Creamy Portabella Mushroom; and Creamy Three Cheese.

According to officials with Minneapolis-based General Mills, Progresso created 80 recipes using the cooking sauces. Each can contains one recipe as well as a QR code that directs customers to 30 more weeknight dinner ideas.

For more information, visit www.progresso.com.

Because many of today’s consumers are watching their sodium intake, Swanson has also introduced Swanson Unsalted Cooking Stocks, which add rich, delicious flavor to meats, sauces and gravies without any added salt. According to company officials, a key advantage is that because the stocks are unsalted they allow cooks to achieve the correct desired level of seasoning. Available in Chicken and Beef varieties, Swanson Unsalted Cooking Stock is packaged in 26-ounce aseptic cartons with a suggested retail price of $3.15.  For more information, visit www.swansonbroth.com.

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