Merchandising Features / Categories / Trend Features / Soups/Sauces/Dressings/Marinades

Soup’s On

Newer flavors and wellness-oriented selections are helping to propel refrigerated soup revenues.

October 28, 2011
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The market remains hot for refrigerated soups.

The category—in which more than 90 percent of sales are generated by private-label products—had revenues of $120.8 million for the 52 weeks ending April 17, 2011, up 11.1 percent versus the year-earlier period, reports SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm. Unit sales were 30.6 million, up 12.9 percent.

And the sector retains strong growth potential as suppliers respond to consumers’ growing interest in healthier foods, innovative flavors, and inexpensive and convenient meal options.

Selections already are expanding with many retailers offering additional arrays of soups that are low in fat, sodium and calories, along with non-dairy, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free varieties.

In a January 2011 report on the category, Mintel International Group Ltd., a London-based market research firm, states that persons under age 40 with household incomes of more than $75,000 are more likely to purchase refrigerated soups.

The report also recommends that merchandisers offer varieties that deliver freshness, quality and new taste experiences.

“Successful retailers have seasonal offerings that they change up to three times per year in addition to core items,” says Levon Kurkjian, vice president of marketing for Kettle Cuisine, a Chelsea, Mass.-based supplier of branded and private-label soups.

Kettle Cuisine offers about 60 store-branded products that include vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free and low-fat varieties.

Selections include Indian Lentil, Thai Chicken Curry, and Yankee Bean and Bacon, and top-sellers Chicken Noodle and New England Clam Chowder.

Another private-label supplier, Medina, Ohio-based Sandridge Food Corp., introduces several new flavors annually.

Seasonal offerings include Pumpkin and Roasted Apple Bisque, and Butternut Squash Bisque.

Sandridge also markets gluten-free, dairy-free, low-fat, vegetarian and vegan soups, and is set to rollout reduced sodium offerings, says Mary Vaccaro, Sandridge senior marketing manager.

In addition to adding varieties, retailers also could spur refrigerated soup sales by attracting new customers through in-store samplings and lower prices, says Bill Patterson, Mintel U.S. reports manager.

Other elements that can generate added interest are point-of-sale signage, and cross-merchandising soups with other fresh, prepared food offerings.

Mintel also recommends that merchandisers accentuate soups’ key selling points: aroma and taste.

Kettle Cuisine’s Kurkjian agrees, noting that many retailers have stations that feature both hot soups and refrigerated packaged selections.

“The aroma from the hot soups will capture passers-by and draw them to the category,” he says. “Offering hot soups enables easier and more immediate trial of the category.”

Sandridge’s Vaccaro adds that aroma and taste are the “key components to the theatre of food and retailers can play on this by having an area for a self-serve soup station for the grab-and-go shopper.”

Hot soup displays, in which selections are rotated daily and schedules are posted in advance, can be strong shopper destinations, she notes.

Safeway Inc., Pleasanton, Calif., is among the retailers supporting hot and cold food stations in its chains.

A Chicago-area Dominick’s Finer Foods location, for instance, recently was offering Tuscan Tomato & Basil Bisque, Baked Potato with Bacon, Chunky Chicken Noodle, and Stompin’ Steakhouse Chili at its hot soups station.

Items were available for $1.99 (small), $2.99 (medium) and $4.99 (large).

The opposite side of the display contained large assortments of refrigerated selections for $3.49 (15 ounces) and $3.99 (24 ounces).

Refrigerated varieties included the selections available at the hot soup station, as well as Hearty Pot Roast, Organic Chicken Noodle, Coconut & Red Curry Chicken Bisque, Bella Minestrone, Santa Fe Style Chicken Enchilada, Roasted Red Pepper & Crab Bisque, Rosemary Chicken White Bean, Italian Style Wedding with Meatballs & Chicken, Savory Chicken & Orzo with White Meat Chicken, and Pacific Coast Clam Chowder.

A smaller retailer, Thibodaux, La.-based Rouses Markets, which operates 36 outlets in Louisiana and Mississippi, primarily offers hot selections, but also repackages the leftover soups in pint and quart containers and sells the refrigerated items for $5.79 and $9.99, respectively.

Offerings include Crawfish Corn ’n Pepper and Chicken ’n Andouille.

Bob Sewall, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Blount Fine Foods Inc., a Warren, R.I.-based private-label supplier, notes that appearance and price are equally important for hot and cold soups.

“If the soup looks good, smells good and the price is reasonable, consumers will try the hot soup,” he states. “If it tastes good, they will come back and likely buy more hot soup or try the refrigerated version.”

Sewall recommends “Soup of the Month” promotions in which retailers highlight a specific offering.

“It’s all about getting more customers to the deli department,” he states.

Blount, which markets 23 varieties of soups, is testing the use of “toppers” with several of its offerings.

Tortilla strips, for instance, are being added to the top of its Tortilla soup; cheese and croutons to the top of French Onion; and crackers to the top of Clam Chowder.

“It emulates the foodservice side but plays into the grab-and-go dynamic because the soup can be brought anywhere and is a more complete and tasty meal,” Sewall states.

Blount also is moving into the branded arena with its national launch of Panera Bread and Legal Sea Foods soups.

Soup merchandisers, meanwhile, can gain further traction by targeting specific shopper segments.

Mintel, for instance, found that soup is often eaten as a meal itself.

Thus, singles—who typically seek individual meals rather than communal selections—would likely be prime users and receptive to single-serve offerings.

Retailers also can spur interest by positioning soup as part of a larger meal.

Marketing elements can include offering serving suggestions and meal planning ideas at the point of sale.

“Promoting ‘Soup Nights’ by offering meal deals on fresh soups, salads and breads might also play up this dynamic,” Vaccaro says.

She adds that retailers also can merchandise soups in larger containers that serve two to four persons and “combine it with artisanal bread rolls and toppings that complement the soup.”

In addition, soups can gain visibility by being bundled with accompaniments and placed throughout the store—such as near the register or in the produce section next to the bagged salads to encourage consumers to think of “soup and salad.”  

“Sampling stations near the deli or in-store bakery would entice consumers to try new refrigerated soups and drive more impulse sales, particularly among shoppers looking for a quick and easy meal to purchase, prepare and eat in the same day,” Patterson says.  

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