If there’s one thing you can say about soups now, it’s that there really is no longer a “soup season” — this product category is officially a year-round specialty.
Bob Sewall, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Blount Fine Foods, one of the biggest providers of soups across the country, knows that it’s simply a matter of being nimble in your flavor offerings, because geographically, the Midwest and the Northern US are the only regions that identify soup with cold weather.
“I think with ‘soup season,’ no matter where you’re at, how you go to market and change your soup offerings for seasonal purposes will extend it, because you’ve got the same expenses whether you’re selling soup or not. So you might as well sell more soup, right? People don’t stop eating. So I always tell people, if we’re just shipping you soup, you’ve got the wrong company, because anybody can ship soup. Our job is to have our culinary team and our whole team involved with you, so that we can provide you with the right products every month of the year.”
And the seasonality of soups is even further fading out with the introduction of cold soups coming from other cultures and catering to America’s more adventurous palate.
“One interesting thing on the soup front is the emergence of ready-to-drink cold soups, as Tio Gazpacho started in Florida, followed by ZUPA NOMA in SoCal,” agrees Kora Lazarski, senior strategic alliance manager at market research firm Spins. “These cold soups are merchandised in the refrigerated beverage sections and keep the category interesting in summer months.
“As a whole, soup is a $6.6 billion category that is down 1.7 percent in conventional channels, but it’s up by 8 percent in the natural channel.”
Sandy Rega, senior director of marketing for Kettle Cuisine, another soup behemoth, agrees. “Retailers and foodservice customers are more focused on nutritional call outs, lifestyle options and allergen awareness, with organic, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and dairy free all resonating. We see strong sales growth in all of these dietary categories, especially vegan and gluten free.”
And this, again, is backed up by numbers. According to Technomic’s Left Side of the Menu: Soup & Salad Consumer Trend Report, 50 percent of consumers want to try new and unique soups, and more than a third (35 percent) purchase soup because they want to try new varieties. “Restaurants offering soup and salad now face considerable competition from the retail segment,” the report states, “in fact, 54 percent of consumers told Technomic that they source soup from home at least once a week.”
But as established in instore magazine’s recent study, What’s Driving the Retail Foodservice Consumer? the emphasis must be kept on ‘fresh.’
“Probably the most important thing in the deli is to get away from processed food and make available real, cooked, prepared food,” says Blount’s Sewall. “I’ll tell you, we have tastings and people will say, ‘Wow, this tastes great,’ and I’ll say ‘Yeah, well we use real Vermont cheddar cheese.’ When I look at mac’n’cheese, it’s probably one of the most abused products ever in the history of food, right? I mean, it’s as synthetic as the oil in your engine. So we had the bright idea of using real cheese! Really, that’s why it tastes good.”
Rega agrees, and says Kettle Cuisine is now launching their Farm and Kettle line of organic soups. The key, she says, is really about working with retailers to keep those soups in the forefront of consumers’ minds and cater to these trending attributes.
“It’s all for the battle for share of stomach,” Blount’s Sewall says. “And again, the nicest thing about today’s world is that all of this social media and app marketing is free. When people want to know something, they go to their phone, so I think it’s even easier today to get the message out. If you’re organized, your IT department is up on things — that’s an important facet of it, because at the end of the day, in my estimation, if you take the time to educate the customer, and supply them with great food, there’s an appreciation factor there. And you know what? They’re going to tell other people about it. They do the same thing with good restaurants; word-of-mouth is what gets you loyal customers. And we have to adopt that same mindset.”