Taking Stock

1/16/2016

As the shelf-stable soup category continues to decline — by 2 percent in sales dollars for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 24, 2015, according to Nielsen — manufacturers and retailers are finding new ways to keep shoppers interested.

Among those ways are additional organic options and convenient new delivery systems. Meredith Gremel, VP, corporate affairs and communications at Grand Rapids, Mich.-based SpartanNash, a food distributor and operator of 165 grocery stores, notes that “our Full Circle Organic aseptic broth is selling very well,” although she admits, “It is too early to judge the overall impact of these innovations [on] the total [soup] category.”

Taking a broader view, Gremel adds: “While ready-to-serve soup in aseptic packaging is off to a slow start, we anticipate this will be the packaging preference of the future, similar to where we are currently in aseptic broths. The acceptance of soup in a K-cup offering convenience is in its early stages, with limited customer acceptance. While we have seen declines in condensed soup, we are seeing growth in the broth-based segment due to the healthier perception at the consumer level. We are [also] seeing growing demand for bone broth, driven by the Millennial consumers.”

One leading manufacturer currently tapping into those trends is Campbell Soup Co., whose recent product introductions include Organic Kids Soups available in three aseptic-carton SKUs and Fresh-Brewed Soups, created to be prepared in a Keurig brewer.

The company is also trying to get on the right side of the Force with Special Edition Star Wars Soups featuring intricate die-cut pasta shaped like such classic characters as R2D2, Yoda, Darth Vader, and, available exclusively at Target, Chewbacca and C3PO. None of the soups in this line contains added MSG, artificial flavors or artificial colors.

“We’ve seen consumer shifts in people choosing food that is more ‘real’, organic and locally produced,” observes Jim Sternbenz, SVP U.S. retail sales at Camden, N.J.-based Campbell. “Retailers are seeing the same fundamental consumer shifts in how to make the category more attractive to consumers by better meeting their needs. As a leader in the shelf-stable soup production category, we are working to preserve what people love about our food, while reimaging the brand for a new generation.”

In particular, he notes, the Star Wars and Organic Kids Soups “are part of our commitment to make products which are simpler and fit with changing consumer preferences.”

To reaffirm its connection to consumers, last October the company unveiled its first integrated soup portfolio advertising campaign in more than five years. The Made for Real Life campaign “shows how Campbell’s products fit into people’s hectic everyday lives in an authentic humorous and relatable way,” explains Sternbenz.

Nutritious and Delicious

When it comes to better-for-you offerings, Gurnee, Ill.-based Frontier Soups has already carved out a comfortable niche in that segment. “Frontier Soups’ dry mixes appeal to consumers seeking healthier options because there is no salt added, no preservatives or MSG, and we require all suppliers to provide ingredients that are not genetically engineered,” notes company founder Trisha Anderson. “Also, soups, by their nature, are filled with foods consumers are trying to add to their diets, like beans, lentils and vegetables.”

Of Frontier’s latest soup mix offerings, Pacific Rim Gingered Carrot and Kentucky Homestead Chicken and Rice, Anderson notes: “Despite being very different soups in style, both of these soups cater to consumers’ desire to add highly nutritious foods to their diets.”

She further notes, “Soup is a very versatile dish, and … food producers can find success by coming up with creative ways to add ingredients that consumers are seeking to add to their diets in a way that is family-friendly.”

What’s Cooking

Speaking of versatility, soups — and especially their near relations, broths and stocks — are instrumental in many recipes, and manufacturers and retailers hope to encourage sales across those segments by playing up that fact. Affirms SpartanNash’s Gremel, “We have done a number of cross-merchandising promotions on end caps with other meal and recipe ingredients.”

Soup itself can also serve as a base for culinary experimentation. Frontier’s Anderson points out that her company’s products “provide a shortcut to homemade soup. While they are a convenience product, home cooks add fresh and pantry ingredients to the mix, and that gives them a satisfying feeling of cooking something healthy for their families.” Frontier employs a merchandising strategy similar to Spartan Nash’s. “We have had great results with end cap displays that allow retailers to cross-merchandise ingredients home cooks add to our mixes, like broth and canned tomatoes,” says Anderson.

Additionally, Campbell’s Swanson line of broth has recently launched two lines: Bottled Broth in Chicken and Natural Goodness Chicken varieties, offering a new easy-measure strip so consumers can pour what they need and know how much is left, and Unsalted Broth in Beef and Chicken varieties that, according to the brand, “provides the perfect foundation to work from, letting you make your dishes the way you like them.”

“While we have seen declines in condensed soup, we are seeing growth in the broth-based segment due to the healthier perception at the consumer level.”
—Meredith Gremel, SpartanNash Co.

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