It has been almost two-and-a-half years since the Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., introduced Campbell’s Go, a line of microwavable pouch soups designed for adventurous appetites, in particular, the appetites of millennials. In November 2012, Darren Serrao, then senior vice-president-innovation and business development and now senior vice-president-chief marketing officer and commercial officer for the Americas, explained that these soups were made for millennials by millennials.

It did not take long for Stephen Colbert to add his two cents to the product launch. He sarcastically declared on his show that soup is “America’s hottest liquid food trend. Right now there is nothing 18-to-34-year-old upper middle income kids love more than soup.”

All kidding, and puns, aside, soup is hot and especially with millennials. This was confirmed by exhibitors at the National Restaurant Association (N.R.A.) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show this past May in Chicago. A driving force behind soups’ popularity with the millennial demographic is that it’s familiar and comforting, while at the same time affordable. Soup also may be quite healthful, and for the most part, be simply formulated with fresh, local ingredients, qualities many millennials are looking for in their prepared foods from retail and in food service.

“Soup is a low-risk item,” said Cesare Casadei, head chef, Kettle Cuisine, Lynn, Mass. “Millennials can try new and interesting flavors without worrying about spending too much for something they may not enjoy.

“And soup is convenient. As long as there is a microwave handy, soup can be a portable item.

Soup functions as the ideal base for culinary professionals to layer on flavors and experiment with varied and multiple textures.
Photo courtesy of Vitamix

“Soup can be a complete bowl of heath, including fiber, protein and good fats to keep you fuller longer until the next meal or snack. It can also be an indulgent treat. Cheese-, potato- or cream-based soups are well loved comfort foods that can be enjoyed in moderation.”

For culinary professionals, soup is an adaptable and forgiving food format for innovation. From broth bowls to hearty stews, soup functions as the ideal base for culinary professionals to layer on flavors and experiment with varied and multiple textures to satisfy today’s consumers’ appetite for adventure.

“Adventurous consumers today appreciate the basic flavor profiles of grandma’s chicken noodle and tomato soups, but they want more. They want big, bold and unique,” said Bev Shaffer, chef and recipe development manager, Vitamix, Olmsted Township, Ohio. “For example, chefs can blend traditional chicken soup into a silky puree for a new eating experience. They can chop up seasonal or signature ingredients and add them to a standard soup base. They can also puree sweet or hot peppers, or make a farmers’ market-inspired pesto and swirl it onto the soup just before serving.”

Chef Shaffer provided some examples.

“Start with a chicken soup broth base,” she said. “Blend it to a silky consistency with the addition of some white beans. Serve it with white beans and Swiss chard, topped with a small batch of crispy noodles.”

Another idea is a trio-of-tomatoes soup using fresh, canned and sun-dried tomatoes with an abundance of sweet roasted garlic and fresh herbs, including some with heat.

“Top it off with a swirl of fresh and familiar pesto and a small side of fresh guacamole, Greek yogurt and blue corn chips,” she said.

Trend watching at the N.R.A.

Numerous exhibitors at the N.R.A. offered soup solutions to ease the innovation process for chefs and food service operators. For example, Nona Lim, Oakland, Calif., markets a namesake line of ready-to-heat soups in retail (12 oz) and food service (one gallon) sizes.

“We make all of our soups from scratch using whole, fresh vegetables, homemade stock and real spices,” said Nona Lim, founder. “The soups are naturally low in sodium and nutrient dense and contain no artificial ingredients or preservatives.”

To communicate the simple formulation, the soups come in pouches with a see-thru window. The non-GMO Project verified soups are shipped frozen to maintain freshness. Retailers merchandise the thawed product under refrigeration. The soups come in traditional varieties such as omato and French onion, as well as more trendy offerings, including Asian lemongrass, kale and potato, spicy rice and Thai green curry.

Soup can be quite healthful, and for the most part, be simply formulated with fresh, local ingredients.
Photo courtesy of Vitamix

Kettle Cuisine prides itself on making soups from scratch with only ingredients perceived as natural. Stocks are made from fresh bones that are loaded with natural minerals and function as the “body and soul” of the soups, said Mr. Casadei.

“We start with fresh bones and aromatics in cold water and simmer them for the appropriate amount of time to release their natural flavors and health benefits,” he said. “We also use lots of fresh herbs and fresh produce that have been processed in our facility. We only use sea salt to season our soups. It contains many natural minerals that are beneficial to health and are not present in other salts.”

Alongside traditional soups, the company served several new organic offerings at the N.R.A., such as aromatic chickpea, carrot coconut ginger, spicy tomato garlic and split pea and kale. On the hardier side, the company introduced globally inspired stews intended as center-of-the-plate menu options. Innovations include Latin-inspired beef Barbacoa, Southern Indian-inspired chickpea and butternut, Indian-inspired chicken Tikka Masala and French-inspired Cassoulet.

From soup to broth

Ethnic is definitely trending in soup, with the concept of broth bowls becoming increasingly popular. Panera Bread, St. Louis, introduced mainstream America to the Asian-inspired concept earlier this year and all types of food service establishments, in particular mom and pop shops, are jumping on board due to their simplicity.

With broth bowls, the secret is to start with highly flavorful umami broth. After that, any fresh ingredients on hand may be added to create a signature soup.

Suppliers such as Blount Fine Foods, Fall River, Mass., make it easy for chefs to create broth bowls. The company, which just so happens to be the manufacturer of the Panera-branded retail heat-and-eat soups, introduced two highly flavorful ready-to-use broths at N.R.A. Thai Coconut is a creamy coconut broth with lemongrass, peppers and a zesty lime finish. Asian Vegetable is a light vegetable broth with strong umami notes from porcini mushrooms, miso and soy sauce with a sweet and spicy finish.

Mom and pop cafes may use technology to create a soup-of-the-day using local ingredients without worrying about seasonal cost fluctuations and waste.

Mom and pop cafes may use technology to create a soup-of-the-day using local ingredients without worrying about seasonal cost fluctuations and waste.
Photo courtesy of Vitamix

“Our culinary team suggests pre-roasting a flavorful assortment of seasonal veggies with fresh herbs, then portioning and freezing for individual size soups,” Ms. Shaffer said. “The operator can easily blend the portion pack in the Vitamix with the addition of hot water. This approach allows cafes — small and large — to offer a variety of signature soups regardless of the time of year. They can further customize with varied toppings and add-ins. This approach produces a far better soup then one that’s been sitting in a warmer all day.”

Soup may be cold and can even be for dessert, said Ms. Shaffer.

“Think cold fruit smoothie with angel food cake croutons,” she said.

“Cold soups are perfect for summer,” Mr. Casadei said. “We used N.R.A. to launch Classic Gazpacho, and Jalapeño Tomatillo Gazpacho.”

What’s the future for soup? Ms. Shaffer said the opportunities to be creative with soup are infinite.

“Expect to see full-bodied broths with internationally inspired add-ins such as fermented veggies as well as non-meat protein options,” she said. “Whole grains will be used as natural thickeners, often times, and depending on the grain, easily making the offering gluten free.”