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- RESEARCH & AWARDS
Refrigerated soup sales are on the upswing.
Shoppers are seeking wider varieties of unique and healthy offerings.
Greater consumer interest in soups as meals is likely to spur further activity.
Fresh soup merchandisers are in an envious position.
Not only are the soups hot sellers, but the category is proving to be almost recession proof.
Refrigerated soup dollar sales were up 11.8 percent to $130.8 million, and volume sales increased 10.4 percent, for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 27, 2011, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.
Fresh soups also are a key private-label category. Store brands dominate the sector with sales of $114.6 million, up 6.8 percent from the year-earlier period.
Fueling such growth are wider varieties of products, changing consumer attitudes and purchasing habits, and perceived product value.
The Madison, Wis.-based International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA) reports that consumers are indicating interest in artisanal, rustic and unique flavors.
“This trend certainly lends itself to soups that suggest a certain level of comfort outside of the traditional top sellers,” notes Jonathan Whalley, IDDBA writer and education assistant.
Among the newer flavors are Carrot Ginger, Spiced Pumpkin Bisque, Butternut Squash Bisque with Granny Smith Apples, and Curried Cauliflower.
While shoppers are not abandoning traditional favorites, more consumers—particularly younger persons—are seeking exotic flavors and unique offerings.
Ethnic and regional soups, such as Mulligatawny, Indian Lentil Stew, Santa Fe Chicken Tortilla, Roasted Poblano and Cheese, Thai Curry Chicken, Gumbo and Jambalaya are all popular.
Merchandisers also should leverage the greater consumer interest in health and wellness to spur further category growth, says Lynnea Hinton, marketing coordinator for Sandridge Food Corp., a Median, Ohio-based private-label soup supplier.
“People perceive fresh soup as less processed and better-for-you,” she notes.
Sandridge introduced a line of 10 reduced-sodium soup flavors in 2011. Sodium was cut by nearly 50 percent in many varieties.
Other suppliers also are emphasizing healthier options, including lower-fat, lower-sodium, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and vegetarian selections.
Simmering Soup, meanwhile, a Cumberland, R.I.-based supplier of private-label offerings as well as the Simmering Soup and Stonewall Kitchen brands, is seeing the strongest demand for all-natural offerings, says Jeff Jordan, director of sales and marketing.
“As consumers become more educated, they want preservative-free, chemical-free and antibiotic-free foods,” he states.
Jordan adds there also is greater interes3t in vegetarian soups, especially by younger shoppers.
Simmering Soup, Sandridge, Chelsea, Mass.-based Kettle Cuisine and Warren, R.I.-based Blount Fine Foods Inc. were among the suppliers introducing new vegetarian flavors in 2011.
It is crucial that such varieties are part of a much larger range of selections, says Levon Kurkjian, Kettle Cuisine vice president of marketing. Kettle Cuisine offers both Kettle Cuisine-branded and private-label soups.
“In order to lock in a greater number of frequent purchases, it is important to rotate varieties to keep soups fresh and exciting,” he states. “Shoppers will tire from the same offerings all year long and will leave the category or visit it much less frequently.”
Mintel International Group Ltd., a London-based market research firm, reports that many soup shoppers enter stores without a firm idea of what brand or flavors they are going to buy. Merchandisers, as a result, can use cross-promotions and sampling to steer consumers to specific offerings.
“We encourage our retail customers to offer two-ounce soup samples,” Jordan says. “Having consumers sample the soup is the best way to sell it to any age group.”
Bob Sewall, Blount Fine Foods executive vice president of sales and marketing, meanwhile, notes that consumers tend to eat healthier in the beginning of the week, and retailers should merchandise soups accordingly.
“Try offering lighter, healthier options Monday through Wednesday, and cream-based, heartier and heavier styles later in the week,” he says. “Consumers will splurge at the end of the week so flexibility is essential—few people eat healthy every day of the week.”
Rotating soups seasonally to promote new flavors also is beneficial.
Popular varieties in the fall and winter include Corn Chowder, Clam Chowder, Lobster Bisque, Butternut, Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Bisque. Many shoppers prefer lighter and broth-based soups in the spring and summer, such as Cucumber and Tomato.
The category, meanwhile, is poised for additional growth as more shoppers turn to fresh soup for meals. Mintel in 2010 found that more than a third of consumers who took soup to work or school indicated that they had increased the frequency over the previous two years.
“Retailers also can boost refrigerated soup sales by helping their shoppers embrace the flexibility of using soup as an ingredient,” Kurkjian says. “Many soups can be combined with other ingredients in supermarkets to make a hearty and wholesome meal.”
Such soups as Tomato Basil Bisque, Lobster Bisque and Madeira Mushroom, for instance, can be featured as gourmet-ready sauces over pastas, while Lentil and other bean-based soups go well over rice.
Suppliers also suggest that retailers merchandise soups in larger containers that serve two to four persons, and combine the soups with complimentary bread, rolls and toppings.
And Sewall states that retailers can emulate the foodservice sector by offering such combinations as a cup of soup and half a sandwich, or soup and a small side item, such as fruit.
In addition, it can be effective for retailers to merchandise refrigerated offerings near hot soup displays, which enables shoppers to first sample hot selections before—hopefully—becoming loyal chilled soup purchasers of the flavors.