A. Elizabeth Sloan

Soup’s on—and new upscale flavors, healthier formulations, varied price points, and grab-and-go options have made the category hotter than ever. Sales of canned soup alone rose 5% to $3.2 billion in food, drug, and mass channels including Wal-Mart (FDMW) for Y/E 8/16/07, according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI) data cited in Times & Trends, September 2007. In an October 2007 National Restaurant Assn. survey, one-third of American Culinary Assn. chefs cited soup as a hot trend for 2008.

Although lunchtime is the main time for soup, with 67% of adults eating it for lunch during the week and 51% on weekends, according to Mintel International Group’s Soup – U.S. report published in September 2007, soup is fast moving to the center of the plate at dinnertime, too. Multi-sponsor Surveys’ July 2007 Meal Replacement Survey found that 20% of adults ate soup as a dinner entrée in the past week.

Snack soups and single-serve, on-the-go soups have strong sales potential. Mintel reports that 22% of adults eat soup as a snack on weekdays, and 20% do so on weekends. Bakkavor Mariner Foods in the UK offers soup cups topped with fresh vegetables packaged under the lid.

Fresh chilled soups are another fast-emerging segment, with mass market sales excluding Wal-Mart up 18% for Y/E 3/25/07, says IRI. Technomic’s May 2007 Soup Category Report reveals that 18% of consumers regularly bought fresh prepared soup from retail stores in 2007. Soup menu descriptors including fresh, made on-premise, hearty, unique blends, and simmered for hours are key to growing foodservice soup sales, according to Technomic.

Light/low-fat soup sales in FDMW jumped 76% for Y/E 9/9/07 vs 3% for the soup category overall, according to IRI. Equivalized unit volume (EUV) of soups making a fat claim for Y/E 12/1/07 rose 12%; low-fat, 8.9%; fat-free, 6.9%; and the absence of a specific form of fat, 344.4%, according to ACNielsen.

Mintel reports that 70% of health-conscious adults look for lower-sodium soup; half of them seek a serving of fruits/vegetables. The EUV of soups making a sodium claim rose 40.6%; no salt/sodium, 7.9%; no salt/sodium added, 0.3%; and high-fiber, 2.5%.

Highly satiating and low-calorie soups are naturally well-positioned for weight control. Research by Barbara Rolls, Professor of nutrition at The Pennsylvania State University, confirms that when soup is eaten as a first course, people consume about 100 fewer calories during their meal. Rolls reports that 66% of adults believe that eating broth-based soup helps them to feel satisfied when weight watching.

The EUV of organic soups grew 23.5% in 2007, according to ACNielsen. certified Kosher, local, and artisan soups, such as Hearty Artisan Soups from Pacific Natural Foods, are moving mainstream.

Half (51%) of consumers say unique flavors are very influential in their soup purchasing decision, and spicy flavors are very influential for 35%, reports Technomic. The Technomic study found that women tend to favor cream-based soups with vegetables, as well as broth-based and vegetarian soups. Men’s preferences were for beef and heartier soups, such as chili, gumbo, and clam chowder. Young adults age 18–24 strongly prefer chicken noodle soup. Preferences for older folks include clam chowder, French onion, and vegetable soup.

Among soup eaters, 75% enjoy chicken flavors, followed by 73% who like soup with noodles, Mintel reports. Other soup preferences are as follows: 50% like soup with beef; 43%, vegetarian; 42%, cream-based; 30%, with beans; 24%, seafood; and 11%, broth, Mintel says.

Restaurant & Institutions’ 2007 Menu Census notes that seafood bisque, Asian soups, and vegetarian chili are the most likley to be added to menus. Lobster is the main new ingredient standout in fine dining. Authentic Italian, Asian, and Mexican soup—Pasta e Fagioli, Vietnamese Pho, and Mexican Pozole—are the up-and-coming wave of soup cuisines on menus, according to Mintel’s Menu Insights Group.

Using soup as an ingredient in cooking—such as using Progresso’s Light Southwestern-Style Vegetable Soup to make an easy Chicken Enchilada Casserole—is on the rise as consumers increasingly opt to cook at home. In fact, ACNielsen reported that frozen meal starters—including soup kits—were the fastest-growing food category in North America last year.

Globally, where soup often holds a more prominent position in the daily diet than in the United States, time-crunched consumers are turning to prepared broths to make their soup preparation simpler. ACNielsen reports that fresh/refrigerated soup/bouillon/stock, with sales up 18%, was the second-fastest-growing food category globally last year.

by A. Elizabeth Sloan,
Contributing Editor 
President, Sloan Trends, Inc., Escondido, Calif. 
[email protected]