Bob Sewall, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Blount Fine Foods, says restaurant-quality soups are driving in-store sales.
Tell us about the refrigerated soup category. What is driving sales?
Bob Sewall: The refrigerated soup category continues to be among the fastest-growing categories in the retail channel. We are not just winning over consumers who are considering their soup choices. We are attracting consumers looking for the kind of taste, quality and wholesomeness they would find in a good restaurant. A good soup is a good meal, which consumers are coming to understand. Refrigerated soup, in a package that lets you see the ingredients, communicates that quality very well.
Make no mistake about the two factors that drive store sales: quality of product and ingredients, and advances in production that allow brands like Blount, Panera and Legal Sea Foods to offer a product with a restaurant-quality flavor and texture profile that also has better ingredients and ever-cleaner ingredient labels.
The result has been that we are able to introduce certified organic soups with a 50-day shelf life; gluten-free products that are delicious and that the whole family enjoys; and 10-ounce, single-serve soups where the chunks of meat and vegetables stay firm and consistent from cup to cup.
The category is growing because we are continuously improving, and consistently surprising the consumer, which thrills grocers.
Consumer tastes and demands are changing. How have these changes reached the soup segment?
Consumer behavior and preference are changing in ways that play to the strengths of Blount Fine Foods. They want quality, wholesome products, and ours are unrivaled. They want variety, which we have in abundance, and they want ease. What is easier than a restaurant-quality meal that is ready to eat in three minutes?
For any retailer, the relationship between a well thought out refrigerated soup program and their salad/hot bar can bring selling synergies most do not realize. A good mix of branded and private label soups that serves as an extension of the ready-to-eat offering creates cross-selling and upselling opportunities throughout the week, as well as at different times throughout the day.
How is Blount Foods addressing the opportunity?
Here at Blount we push ourselves to continue to innovate, and we share what we learn through a Blount commitment to customer collaboration that has been ingrained over three generations.
We operate the business under the belief that if you come to understand your consumer well enough, you will not just keep up with them, you will also be afforded opportunities to lead them. That often involves simply showing them new and different ways to meet their evolving tastes and demands.
What do retailers need to do in terms of merchandising and marketing in-store to maximize sales and profits?
Variety is a key to maximizing sales of refrigerated soups. That means a variety of flavors variety of brands—including private label—and variety of sizes. Offering and communicating about an array of healthy options also goes a long way.
Since our retail soups are also available in foodservice bulk sizes, smart retailers use their salad/soup bar as a sampling opportunity, often communicating that “today’s special” is also available in 16- and 24-ounce retail cups.
Soup is a year-round business now. It provides a wholesome meal, with seasonal varieties and the ability to quickly capitalize on hot culinary trends happening in the restaurant industry. Blount’s ability to custom make small-batch specialty items on a very short turnaround is a key differentiator for us, and a big advantage for retailers.
What will happen over the immediate future in this category? How do retailers get prepared?
We will keep innovating and continuing to meet the demands of our customers, which in turn raises the bar on the entire soup category. I expect we will see continued growth as more and more of our customers seek to put our organic and gluten-free products in private label cups, which we are thrilled to do.