Many of us have fond memories of a eating a warm, hearty soup on a cold day. A comfort staple in Canadian homes, soup has evolved in terms of ingredients, packaging and the people eating it most.
The growth in soup remains steady (the average Canadian eats soup 85 times a year), according to Joel Gregoire, industry analyst at the NPD Group, with certain sectors of the population are consuming it more than ever. “It picks up at the age of 45 and then picks up dramatically after 65,” he says, adding that consumption overall is also more prevalent among Asian consumers. “As well, we’re seeing more growth in the 18-34 set.”
Indeed, this age group referred to as Generation Y, is not looking at soups the same way as their boomer parents did.
Phillip Donne, president of Campbell Canada, concurs, saying there is a younger demographic gravitating to soups that are portable and healthy. “Following our sodium reduction program, we’ve cleaned up the label on a number of our products so people know what they’re eating,” he says. “We’re also doing things like adding vitamin D to our condensed soups.”
While healthy options are in demand, it doesn’t mean shoppers won’t compromise on taste. “Today’s consumers are gravitating towards wholesome ingredient decks and exciting global flavours,” says Paul Parolin, vice-president of sales for B.C.-based organic soup manufacturer Happy Planet, noting new flavours like velvety pea soup with mint.
Consumers also expect the same from their grocer’s fresh soup offerings as well, says Tyler Reed, Loblaw’s senior category manager, home meal replacement. “Our customers visit our stores to feed their families but they’re looking to be inspired and trying our soups is a great way to explore so many exciting new flavours,” he says. “They like ‘familiar with a twist,’ such as Wicked Thai Chicken Noodle which is an exotic blend of chicken, rice, peppers and aromatic spices.”
Donne says grocers could be doing more with their soup offerings to drive higher shopping baskets.
He points to research that shows a basket containing a Campbell soup will contain 25 per cent more products from a store’s perimeter. “Because soup has been around for 100 years it doesn’t get the attention it could,” says Donne, pointing to innovators like Overwaitea who have created meal centres with cooking soups beside freshly prepared chicken or beef.
While Longo’s ready to serve refrigerated soups are experiencing double-digit growth, the grocer is also targeting those who want to do it themselves.
At one of its new locations in Toronto, a fresh veggie bar pairs vegetable blends for soup options that simply require shoppers to add their own broth. “I can tell you that seven out of 10 items in the soup category are a broth,” says Longo’s Tony Lancia, grocery category manager. “When we bring in new shelf products, we also rely on our partners to provide education and we promote cooking soups in the recipes we give our customers.”
Cans to pouches
Soup containers have come a long way from the canned variety traditionally lining store shelves.
Microwavable containers, boxed soups and flex pouches are making soups more portable, lightweight and freezable for later use.
Plastic flexible packaging is easier to store and is purported to require less resources to create and transport. (According to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association one truckload of flexible packaging is equal to 26 truckloads of glass.)
But Larry Little, manager of Planet Organic Market in Mississauga, Ont., says when it comes to environmentally conscious consumer, bottled ready-made soups trump the others. “Bottles are always the best for recycling,” he says, adding that his store carries 15-20 varieties of 1-litre bottles of soup made in-house or from local vendors. “Consumers want to see what they’re eating.”