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Positioning Soup as the Ultimate Convenience Meal

Grocers are using a range of approaches that feature everything from premium on-the-shelf products to chef-prepared items ready to take out
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Premium on-the-shelf soups offer shoppers convenience and quality.

Grocers are finding different ways to satisfy consumer demand for soup as a convenience meal, using approaches that feature everything from premium on-the-shelf products to chef-prepared items ready to take out.

For example, Zoup! offers a lineup of what the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based company calls flavor-forward shelf-stable soups and broths packaged in recyclable and reusable glass jars. The foundation of the business is in the Zoup! Eatery restaurant chain, which has operated for 26 years. Although Zoup! Specialty Products is a separate business, the foodservice experience has carried over to the grocery operation as the basis for the bottled soup line.

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Eric Ersher, founder and CEO of Zoup! Specialty Products, left the restaurant business to pursue his goal of creating high-quality soups and broths made with clean ingredients, including fresh herbs, antibiotic-free chicken and hearty cuts of vegetables, for such venues as grocery stores. Heat-and-eat Zoup! soup and broths don’t incorporate artificial ingredients, preservatives or GMOs, either.

Ersher points out that consumers today are more sophisticated about what they eat, particularly after having delved more deeply into food and cooking during the pandemic, and many have greater expectations of meal occasions, which Zoup! can satisfy with its premium selections.

“People are interested in more things culinary than ever before,” he says. “We want to offer great products that, when they are tried by consumers, keep them coming back for more.”

Ersher adds that it’s not just about the mix of ingredients, even if they are superior, but also the flavors that they produce. Consumers want “big flavor,” which is what Zoup! works hard to deliver.

The company’s latest products include comforting Chicken Potpie and Chicken Noodle, as well as a rich and aromatic Portabella Mushroom Bisque and a hearty vegan Black Bean Chili. Kettle-cooked in small batches and crafted with Zoup!’s homestyle broths as the base, the soups offer a simmered-all-day taste.

As for broths, Ersher emphasizes that they’re tasty enough to eat by themselves, but they can of course be used to prepare a wide range of dishes. The broths come in two forms, ready to heat and a concentrate for cooking.

Zoup! products, labeled as Zoup! Good, Really Good Soups, have already rolled out nationally at major food retailers, where the glass jars help the products stand out.

“We have a differentiated product,” Ersher says. “We wanted to make sure the packaging showed that.”

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Zoup!’s lineup of soups
Zoup!’s lineup of premium shelf-stale soups and broths come in recyclable and resusable glass jars.

Retail Initiatives

In looking at how they could entice the premium soup consumer who wants the kind of quality and convenience they can get from foodservice operators, grocers have taken a range of approaches.

For example, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets is marketing a proprietary soup lineup under its Meals2Go label. These items are offered for takeout, curbside pickup and delivery. For shoppers who want to use delivery or curbside pickup, the company offers an online menu. The basic size is 16 ounces across an assortment that includes Broccoli Cheddar, Tomato, Chicken Noodle, Rotisserie Chicken Noodle, Italian Wedding and Organic Spicy Red Lentil Chili soups, although other sizes are available.

Wegmans merchandises the soups with informational tags to alert consumers that the Broccoli Cheddar and the Organic Spicy Red Lentil Chili are gluten-free and the latter is also vegan, among other notices. The 64-ounce sizes come with a ladle, soup cups, spoons and crackers. Otherwise, even online, the soups are cross-merchandised with such items as Garlic Tuscan Rolls, Mini Croissants, and various salads and sandwiches.

A Wegmans representative observes: “Our hot and cold packaged soups are all Wegmans Brand-developed recipes that were inspired by our Wegmans chefs. They are not made from scratch in our stores, however. The chefs work alongside their teams to ensure we are offering a variety of delicious options throughout the day. This includes periodically tasting, temping and monitoring the soups to ensure our guests receive the best experience possible.”

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Dom's Soup
Dom's Kitchen & Market's soup offering includes such novel varieties as Portabella Enchilada.

Foodservice Orientation

At Market Basket, a two-store gourmet grocer operating in Wyckoff and Franklin Lakes, N.J., soup is part of a larger foodservice operation occurring in stores. Market Basket has a big catering operation; in fact, half of the 28,000-square-foot Franklin Lakes store is dedicated to catering and prepared food. The company employs chefs from the Culinary Institute of America and the French Culinary Institute, according to Market Basket COO Zachary Chernalis, and several work in the store departments, including behind the prepared food counters. In-store prepared food is a major element in the grocer’s proposition to consumers, whether it comes in the form of a traditional deli operation centered on an expansive sandwich menu or prepared meals and individual dishes. Prepared food items are available in refrigerated fixtures for the grab-and-go shopper, as well as at the service counters.

Given the importance of Market Basket’s prepared soup program in general, it’s not surprising that the soup menu changes throughout the year to keep customers interested.

“We have a prominent soup program,” Chernalis affirms. “We make everything from scratch. At our Franklin Lakes location in the winter, we sell over 3,000 quarts a week. Summer is a little slower for soups, but we adapt by offering cold varieties such as Gazpacho and Strawberry Soup.”

In Chicago, Dom’s Kitchen & Market is a unique operation that wants to bring a modern version of the corner market back to the Windy City. With two stores currently operating in the Old Town and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, Dom’s combines a gourmet grocery operation, focused on a curated assortment of produce, cheeses, meat and seafood, with takeout options and a café that gives customers choices all day long, from breakfast sandwiches to pastries to “elevated” burgers to bowls, including salmon and grilled chicken, to cheese boards. It even offers sommelier dinners. All foodservice and prepared food operations are based on recipes created by Dom’s own chef, and the stores also produce a range of internally processed juices, including orange, celery, beet and watermelon. Further, thanks to the café, customers can even shop for groceries with a glass of wine in hand. All told, Dom’s has an experiential format designed to intrigue local residents and turn them into regular customers. 

When it comes to soups, Dom’s creates its own versions of standards such as chicken noodle and beef barley, but also offers Garden Vegetable, Roasted Tomato and Portobella Enchilada soup, as well as Southwest Corn Chowder, all in 24-ounce containers. 

“All of our soups are developed by our executive chef, James Klewin, in-house,” says Megan Jennett, Dom’s director of marketing. “We work with a co-packer to manufacture them to our specifications. This allows us to have consistency between our locations as we grow.”

Additionally, Dom’s augments its premium soup lineup with selections from an area eatery.
“Avli is a local Greek restaurant that we have partnered with, and we worked closely with the brand on a path to offer their inspired Greek cuisine, including [lemon egg] soup, to our guests to enjoy at home,” Jennett notes. 

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