Demand for fresh soups sold in grocery deli/prepared foods sections surged in 2023 for Blount Fine Foods.

Sales were so good, it didn’t even matter what the thermometer outside said.

“We had the best summer selling soup we’ve ever had, and it was hot,” said Bob Sewall, Blount’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Are sales were up 25 to 35% in July and August. It was crazy.”

And last year was no aberration. In the past six years, sales of fresh soup at retail have grown about 200%, Sewall said. Six years ago, only 9% of those polled even knew that grocery stores sold fresh soup. In 2023, it was 22%.

“But think about that — 22% is still low,” Sewall said. “The category is projected to grow another 55% in the next four years.”

A lot of that growth and projected growth is due to younger consumers, he added. They grew up getting their soup and other fresh foods at places like Panera, whose branded soups made by Blount can also be found in grocery deli/prepared foods departments. Panera is the top brand of fresh soup sold at grocery retail.

“They’re unaware of canned soup,” Sewall said. “They buy fresh.”

In 2023, Blount, well-known not only for its Panera soups but also for its Clam Shack and private-label soup programs, began shipping soup under its own Blount’s Family Kitchen brand.

The 24-ounce cups come in several varieties, including:

  • Chicken Soup with White Meat Chicken
  • Loaded Baked Potato Soup
  • Lasagna Soup with Turkey Sausage
  • Creamy Tomato Soup
  • Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice Soup with White Meat Chicken
  • Tailgate Beef Chili with Beans

“We debuted them at IDDBA (in June 2023), started shipping in August, and they’ve literally been an overnight success,” Sewall said of the Blount’s Family Kitchen line. “It’s high-end quality, building out that category for our customers.”

By fall 2023, Blount expects to begin shipping the new soups in smaller containers, which it currently does with its other branded and private-label lines.

A big trend for the smaller sizes at retail, Sewall said, has been to cross-merchandise them with a sandwich or salad from the same instore deli. That replicates the foodservice experience many consumers have at Panera and other restaurants.

Blount encourages its retail partners to do things like stickering a deli sandwich with an offer to add a 8-ounce cup of soup for $1.99.

And for those looking for a meal for the family, Blount has seen and encourages cross-promotions like bundling a 32-ounce fresh soup with a pot pie or flatbread pizza.

The value of quality

When inflation started driving food prices way up, many people thought there would be a “rush to the bottom” on pricing, Sewall said.

That certainly hasn’t been Blount’s experience.

“The reality is, people aren’t spending as much, but they are spending on what they really like and enjoy,” he said. “It’s refreshing to see they’re not trading you out, but staying true to their core of eating healthy. It all comes down to better quality soups, better ingredients, no preservatives of additives, labels that are easy to read.”

The uptick in fresh soup sales has been true of hot to-go soups as well as for packaged products, Sewall said.

“Hot to-go was kind of forgotten, but the trends are back to hot food,” he said. “Retail is garnering more restaurant business.”

At Stop and Shop grocery stores in New England and New York, consumers can now ladle out their hot soups from Blount Family Kitchens-branded kettles.

“Hot sales, in a short period of time, are up triple digits” in sales, Sewall said.

And with hot to-go, it’s a case of rising tides raising all boats, he added.

“Stores that have hot to-go also sell more cups. The customer really feels like, ‘This store is in the soup business.’”

Retail customers who partner with Blount typically have about 12 soups in their hot to-go rotation, Sewall said. And unlike salad bars and other areas of a deli’s fresh to-go department, hot to-go soup stations are easy to set up and manage, he added.

Social sensation

Soup is so hot on TikTok, The Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter Panel named Soup as one of its eight specialty foods trends to keep an eye on in 2024.

“Soup recipes on TikTok are so popular the segment has been dubbed SoupTok, spurred on by the pandemic-era rise of the soup girlie and viral line, ‘Gorgeous, gorgeous girls love soup,’” according to the panel.

Unlike some TikTok food trends, soup has staying power.

“Universal, warm, convenient. Never really goes out of style,” said Jenn de La Vega, one of the panel trendspotters.

Expect to see more soups, broths, and soup starters and mixes on shelves and menus in 2024, according to the panel.

The hashtag #SoupTok has 717.6 million views on TikTok.

This article is an excerpt from the January 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Soups feature and more in the digital edition here.