Soup, There It Is!
Sales are heating up as the category shifts toward clean-label, grab-and-go and ethnic flavor profiles.
For many, the thought of fresh soup often invokes childhood memories of Mom or Grandma stewing over a large pot on a cold winter’s day. Whether nursing the flu, heartache or simply cabin fever, hot soup is considered the ultimate comfort food during the cooler months. But as the category shifts toward clean label, grab-and-go convenience and ethnic flavor profiles, consumers are now sipping on soups year-round – and manufacturers have been dishing out ample innovation to keep up.
“At Weis Markets, we haven’t seen a dip in sales of hot or cold soups throughout the summer months, proving that consumers are eating soup all year round,” says Elaine Cole, director of deli and food service at Weis Markets, based in Sunbury, Pa. “It’s no longer just for winter.”
Weis’ Meal Solutions program offers individual and family-size heat-and-serve meals – including soups, salads, ravioli and rotisserie chicken – at an affordable price. “Today’s busy, time-starved families are looking for more convenient and wholesome options,” says Cole. “All they have to do is heat these meals at home. We focus on making our options convenient for the customer.”
Indeed, consumers’ increasing preference for authentic fresh food is spilling into the refrigerated soup category, which is experiencing rapid growth, up 11.4 percent in the last year, according to Bill Lange, VP of CPG at Santa Monica, Calif.-based Campbell Fresh, the fresh food division of Campbell Soup Co. “Recent research suggests that 78 percent of consumers are trying to eat more fresh food and are therefore gravitating toward new and accessible options, like fresh-refrigerated soup,” adds Lange.
Among these accessible options is Garden Fresh Gourmet’s line of refrigerated soups, which launched last fall, featuring trending flavors and ingredients. The brand added kale to its Chicken Noodle soup, parmesan cheese to its Tomato soup and roasted chiles to its Chicken Tortilla soup. Keeping in mind the demand for clean and recognizable ingredients lists, Garden Fresh Gourmet – now owned by Campbell’s – developed the refrigerated soup line to be free from artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, as well as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, MSG, bleached flour and partially-hydrogenated oils.
“Recognizable ingredients are top of mind for consumers, so we filled our soups with quality garden herbs, vegetables and white meat chicken,” says Lange. “We’re also adding six new flavors including two new organic soup varieties later this fall in response to consumers looking for organic options.”
In addition to clean-label ingredients, flavor variety is key – particularly those with an ethnic element.
Clean Labels Heat Up
“Our introduction of both clean-label products and world-inspired recipes seem to have struck a chord with not only the Millennials who call for them, but across all segments of consumers,” affirms Bob Sewall, EVP of sales and marketing at Fall River, Mass.-based Blount Fine Foods. “Our Asian-inspired soups are a great example of how we are capitalizing on investments we made over the last few years in sourcing, handling and production to grow our organic, clean-label and world-inspired offering, and the return has been excellent.”
Similarly, Züpa Noma’s line of chilled Superfood Soups are made with whole, organic vegetables and healthy fats in a variety of flavors – offering a fresh alternative to shelf-stable canned soups that are filled with heavier ingredients like broths, beans and meat.
“We’ve seen a huge shift towards consumers looking for low sugar options, as well as high fiber, in all aspects of their diets,” says Jen Berliner, VP of marketing at Züpa Noma, based in Sonoma, Calif. “Consumers not only want wholesome, simple ingredients, but they want to know they’re going to feel great – meaning satisfied and energized, with stable blood sugar – after drinking it.”
The Convenience Component
Züpa Noma’s Superfood Soups are available in eight varieties, including two new limited-edition seasonal flavors: Pumpkin Cinnamon Sage and Cauliflower Cashew. But perhaps the product’s biggest draw is its 12-ounce portable bottled format, allowing shoppers to enjoy the product wherever they want, whenever they want. “Consumers are also looking for on-the-go options, as our lives become increasingly busy and we eat fewer meals at the table,” adds Berliner.
Convenience is one of the biggest drivers of growth throughout the grocery store perimeter, and the fresh soup category is no exception. From ready-to-heat to ready-to-eat, retailers must offer nutritious, fresh soups that shoppers can enjoy either immediately or back at home.
Driving It Home
Manufacturers may have plenty of healthy, flavorful and convenient soup innovations in stock, but refrigerated soup still has a low household penetration, leaving room for retailers to draw in new consumers to the category. “One of our challenges is bringing awareness to refrigerated soups to consumers who are already shopping the perimeter of grocery stores, but don’t know that soups can be found in the refrigerated section,” says Lange.
Grocers must become better at offering shoppers’ restaurant-quality prepared meals that are ready to take home and serve, adds Blount’s Sewall. “Supermarkets are showing their customers just how easy, wholesome and delicious hot-to-go, grab-and-go and prepackaged meals can be. As more retailers either raise their game or enter the space outright, it becomes essential that they do it with convenience and technology in mind.”