Soup evolution

by Allison Sebolt
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As more convenient products make their way to the market, soup manufacturers have faced increased competition and the need to emphasize healthier recipes with even more convenient packaging.

"Consumers are looking for nutritional benefits around vegetable nutrition, lower sodium, lower fat, and lower calories while preserving the need for good taste," said Mike Salzberg, president of Campbell Sales Co., Camden, N.J.

Mr. Salzberg said in current market conditions consumers are looking for value in soup products as well as products that aid in home meal preparation as consumers eat out less often.

According to Mintel, soup sales will grow by 4% to 5% each year between 2008 and 2012, and Campbell currently has a 49% market share with General Mills, Inc. up to 13% market share.

But Campbell lost some share to General Mills’ Progresso brand recently, Mintel said, and as a result Campbell is expanding into the gourmet and organic markets. To this end, Campbell acquired the Wolfgang Puck soup business from Country Gourmet Foods, and the transaction also included the option to extend the brand into other related categories and channels.

Campbell and General Mills also have gone head-to-head in marketing with both companies offering results of various taste tests trying to suggest consumers prefer its variety of a specific product over the other company.

In terms of specific new products, Campbell recently introduced Select Harvest varieties, which include Light and Healthy Request options. All of the 44 soups in the line have 480 mg of sodium or less per serving, and the Light varieties have 80 calories or less per serving. Mr. Salzberg said success of the line has been driven by the fact the products represent healthier options and reduced sodium without sacrificing taste.

Progresso also has a light line with 80 calories or less per serving and an endorsement from Weight Watchers with either 0 or 1 "points" per serving. Mintel said the Weight Watchers endorsement paid off for Progresso Light as the line had sales of $100 million in its first year.

Campbell also recently expanded the V8 line into soups.

"Campbell discovered approximately 70% of Americans don’t get the vegetables they need every day," Mr. Salzberg said. "We recognized there was an opportunity within the soup category to offer a soup that would help satisfy that vegetable gap, and our V8 brand, which is known for delivering vegetable nutrition, would be very well positioned to appeal to consumers. As a result, we decided to extend the V8 brand into the soup category."

Mr. Salzberg said soups with authentic flavors, such as golden butternut squash, tomato herb and garden broccoli from the V8 soup line, are popular.

Kettle Cuisine, Inc., Chelsea, Mass., has a variety of nine gluten-free soups all packaged in microwavable bowls and available in flavors such as roasted vegetable, tomato with garden vegetables, and organic mushroom and potato soup with cream. The company offers various dairy free, vegetarian, low fat and organic options as well.

With its Soup at Hand line, Campbell is trying to convince consumers soup may be brought from home for lunch at work. Mintel suggested soup manufacturers should consider the population is aging and many core soup consumers may have limited mobility. To reach this crowd, it may be wise to emulate the packaging used for over-the-counter medications with twist-off caps.

One new soup representing how far the convenience trend has evolved is Go Appetit’s Cool Soup, which is a drinkable soup line offering classic soups in a portable single-serve bottle. The products contain no more than 110 calories per serving and have significant levels of vitamins A, C and potassium. The products are marketed as best served well chilled and enjoyed right out of the bottle.

"Because refrigerated soups are the fastest-growing segment of the soup market, it may make sense for large soup companies such as Campbell and General Mills to explore moving into this market, at least on a limited basis, by partnering with local refrigerated soup manufacturers and local restaurants to test this market," Mintel said.

Mr. Salzberg said products addressing needs for wellness, convenience, quality and value will continue to do well.

According to the Global New Products Database from Mintel, there were 353 new soup products introduced in 2007, up from 319 in 2006. In 2008, as of Nov. 14, there have been 292 new soup product introductions.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, November 25, 2008, starting on Page 48. Click here to search that archive.

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