There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “May you live in interesting times.” That proverb (and curse) turned prophetic in 2008, as marketers of soups and side dishes began the year with worries over sky-high commodity prices and ended the year with a stock market plunge and a spooked consumer base.
Ironically, soup cemented its position as the ultimate comfort food during the last part of 2008, with standard-bearer Campbell Soup the only stock among the Standard & Poor’s 500 to gain value on September 28, 2008. That day saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average endure its worst trading day since September 17, 2001 and the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
The side dish market also proved to be energetic in 2008, as it enjoyed growing interest from consumers moving from pricey restaurant fare to affordable meal solutions in supermarkets. To those who remember the supermarket industry’s fixation with meal solutions a decade or so ago, this evoked a sense ofdéjà vu.
This time, however, meal solution makers were not fighting a seemingly endless rise in out-of-home food sales vs. foods purchased for in-home preparation and consumption.
November marked the sixth straight month of negative same-store restaurant sales, according to the National Restaurant Association. Supermarkets have been picking up some of the slack, with the U.S. Census Bureau reporting a 6.1% gain in supermarket sales for the first 10 months of 2008 vs. the same period in 2007. Clearly, consumers are preparing more meals at home, as eating out has become less affordable.
Soup: A Steady Performer
General economic trends aside, the soup market has long been a steady performer on the new products front. Datamonitor reported 308 new soup product launches in the U.S. in 2008, a modest gain from 2007’s count of 273 new soup products and slightly above the average yearly new product count since 2000.
But, what was going on beneath the new product numbers was more indicative of where the soup market was headed. The new product numbers may not have changed much, but product claims have, as soup has been recast in a healthier light.
That effort starts with repositioning soup as a more “natural” product. Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics notes that 51.2% of 2008’s new soup introductions in the U.S. claimed they were “natural” or were made from “natural” ingredients. That is a sizeable leap from 2006, when 27.6% of new soup launches made a similar claim.
Shying away from highly processed ingredients is only part of the health story. Soup makers are also tweaking recipes to eliminate or reduce ingredients like salt, sodium, MSG and gluten.
Campbell Soup took a lead position on the sodium issue back in 2006, when it reformulated its Healthy Request and Low Sodium Condensed Soup lines with a form of sea salt that cut the sodium content of its recipes by 40%, without sacrificing taste.
That move has definitely paid off, with sales of Campbell’s reduced-sodium soups accelerating from just under $100 million in 2003 to $650 million in 2007. This success has also had a positive impact on reduced-salt and -sodium soup launches. Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics shows that 22% of 2008’s new soup product introductions in the U.S. made no-, low- or reduced-salt or -sodium claims compared to just 14.9% of products that did so in 2006. This trend should continue, as Campbell kicked off 2009 by lowering the sodium content for 12 of its soups for kids.
Soup manufacturers are also eliminating MSG from their new offerings. Datamonitor reports that the “no MSG” claim was utilized on 26.8% of 2008’s new soup launches in the U.S., a massive increase from the 6.9% of launches that made a “no MSG” claim in 2006. Gluten is another substance that is getting the axe. Some 8.5% of 2008’s new soup product launches in the U.S. claimed to be free of gluten, up from just 4.6% of launches making the same claim in 2006, says Datamonitor.
The rush to cleanse ingredient labels of anything perceived to be “bad for you” has also spilled over into product advertising. Hard-hitting ads from Campbell Soup depict General Mills’ Progresso brand in a negative light by comparing product ingredient lists.
In an advertising campaign somewhat reminiscent of the Pepsi Challenge, print ads duplicate full ingredient lists for Progresso’s Traditional Italian-Style Wedding Soup and Campbell’s Select Harvest Italian Style Wedding Soup, noting the presence of MSG in the Progresso product, as well as other potentially less-than-healthy ingredients. Text above the Progresso soup says “bring your dictionary,” while “bring your appetite” is printed above the Campbell offering. Ouch!
New product offerings for soup were less pugnacious than soup advertising was in 2008, setting up the category for future sales gains.
Arguably, the biggest news of the year was Campbell’s extension of its V8 brand into soup. Marking the first time that V8 has moved outside of beverages, Campbell’s V8 Ready-to-Serve Soup is touted as a marriage of the company’s venerable V8 brand and Campbell’s soups.
To consumers, the most interesting feature of the new V8 Soup was likely the packaging. Aseptic cartons used for the launch provided a visual bridge from V8’s niche in beverages to the soup market. Each V8 variant offers a full serving of vegetables, along with reduced fat, saturated fat and cholesterol contents. Garden Broccoli and Tomato Herb are among the flavors offered. Soup makers also took some flavor inspiration from other food and beverage categories in 2008. Tequila has been a star in the liquor market for some time, and it is beginning to make a foray into foods. That is good news for Campbell’s Tequila Lime Chicken and Rice flavor, new to the Select Harvest line in 2008.
Caramelized onion is another flavor picking up interest in everything from crackers and jam to hummus and salad dressing. The flavor is beginning to pop up in soup, too, with launches like Campbell Select Harvest Caramelized French Onion Soup. Also appealing to onion lovers is All Natural Onion Blossom Horseradish Potato Soup, sold under its namesake, Robert Rothschild Farm brand.
Ethnic flavors continue to hold promise for soup makers. Indian food, in particular, is a growing opportunity, one from which Amy’s Kitchen Inc. hopes to benefit. The company’s new Indian Dal Curried Lentil Canned Soup features a mixture of organicmung dalgreen lentils anddesichickpeas flavored with a mild blend of spices and herbs.
A More Natural Approach
Another emerging trend from 2008 is the “beyond natural” movement. With over 50% of 2008’s new soup introductions claiming to be “natural,” this claim may be overexposed. One way to re-establish credentials as a natural product marketer is to spark a deeper dialogue about the ingredients being used, where they came from and how they are harvested.
Illustrating this trend is a new line of all-natural, gluten-free frozen soups from Kettle Cuisine. Featuring flavors like Grilled Chicken in Corn Chowder, this soup line is made with all-natural chicken or beef that has been raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. Part of the “humanely raised” food trend, the launch may be a harbinger of what is to come.
While rising prices have taken some of the wind out of the organic market’s sails, expanding interest in locally grown foods may survive current economic woes. If so, that is good news for launches like Red Fork All Natural Gourmet Market Soup from Red Fork Natural Foods. The varieties in this line, like Curried Tomato & Butternut Squash, were reportedly “inspired by artisan ingredients from farmers markets across the world.”
Soup’s position as a convenience food was enhanced in 2008. Go Appetit Foods’ new Cool Soup attempts to create a new category in convenience foods--drinkable soup. Sold in Creamy Mango Spice and Rich Vegetable Gazpacho flavors, this soup is packaged like a soft drink. Not since Campbell’s launch of Soup at Hand in 2002 has there been such a clear-cut case for soup as an “on-the-run” food.
Another unheralded development in soup in 2008 was a flurry of activity around new cooking stocks and broth products. With consumers doing more food preparation in the home, now may be the ideal time for this niche to shine.
Campbell’s new Swanson Cooking Stock is all-natural, low in sodium and comes in resealable aseptic cartons that fit perfectly in refrigerator doors. Moving in a similar direction was General Mills’ Progresso 100% Natural Broth. MSG, gluten and preservatives were all absent in this new product launch. Also going natural in 2008 was Emeril’s All Natural Chicken Stock, sold in 8oz aseptic cartons by B&G Foods.
Just to show that broth does not have to be boring, Del Monte Corporation’s College Inn brand introduced an ethnic twist with Culinary Broths in the form of Thai Coconut Curry broth.
Side Dishes Now Healthier
Turning to side dishes, 2008 provided an ample supply of new products. Some 702 side dish products were launched in the U.S. in 2008, down slightly from the 751 that debuted in 2007, but well ahead of launch numbers earlier this decade, says Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics.
Like soup, side dishes have seen the light when it comes to health trends, and new products are boasting stronger health credentials than ever before. The percentage of new side dishes making functional claims is up, and organic options are proliferating.
Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics reports that 19.8% of 2008’s new side dishes claimed to be high in at least one healthful nutrient like calcium, fiber or protein. That number has been steadily growing of late, and 2008’s percentage represents a noteworthy advance on the 11.6% of side dishes claiming enhanced nutrients in 2006.
Rather than bulk up products with nutrients, some side dish makers choose to go in more of a natural direction. 2008 saw 23.8% of all new side dishes launched in the U.S. claiming to be organic or use organic ingredients, well ahead of the 15.6% of launches making similar claims in 2006. Interestingly, fewer side dishes claimed to be “natural” in 2008 (vs. 2006).
Looking at new side dishes themselves, one of the year’s more clever introductions came from ConAgra, with its Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers line of Simple Meal Creations. Consumed as a side dish or a main dish, Fresh Mixers needs no refrigeration and is shelved alongside boxed side dishes. Because of this fact, Fresh Mixers are ideal for desk-bound workers who want something healthful and tasty for lunch.
The real breakthrough with Fresh Mixers may be the packaging that separates the starch and sauce ingredients to help maintain the flavor of both. The rice or pasta is prepared fresh in the microwave and then is mixed with the sauce and meat. With varieties like Sesame Teriyaki Chicken with Rice, the line may well set a new standard for microwaveable meals and side dishes.
Steam preparation proved to be a promising side dish trend in 2008. Heinz’s new Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash Frozen Potatoes further extended the steam preparation process with potatoes that steam in the bag in less than 15 minutes in the microwave oven.
A Twist on the Traditional
Scalloped potatoes are a traditional side dish choice. How many consumers, though, have ever tasted scalloped potatoes made with Gruyère cheese or panko bread crumbs? Both are ingredients for the new Joy of Cooking Elegant Scalloped Potatoes product from Bellisio Foods.
The frozen potato market also saw a new launch from a famous name in side dishes, as the Betty Crocker brand headlined a new line of Frozen Twice Baked Potatoes offered by Great American Appetizers Inc. All of the flavors in this line, such as Sour Cream & Cheddar, are made with 100% Idaho Russet potatoes.
General Mills was having its own fun with the Betty Crocker brand with the 2008 debut of Betty Crocker 80 Calorie Pouch Potatoes. Sold in the side dish aisle, the line is made with 100% real mashed potatoes. The 80-calorie pouches appear to have been inspired by the growing number of 100-calorie snack products populating the cookie, cracker and snack aisles of late.
The convenience of heat-and-eat refrigerated or frozen side dishes powered some new rice-based side dishes in 2008. Unilever extended its Shedd’s Country Crock Deluxe line of refrigerated side dishes with a Deluxe Southwestern Rice product. Birds Eye Foods’ new frozen Steamfresh Specially Seasoned Rice in a chicken flavor made use of the company’s signature steamer bags.
Some of the year’s more unusual new side dishes came from private labels. Target’s Archer Farms brand offered Asparagus, Butternut Squash and Wild Mushroom flavored Risottos. Trader Joe’s Fully Cooked Sprouted Brown Rice Bowl debuted something American consumers are more likely to find in Japan than the U.S. This rice bowl features sprouting brown rice, which is said to be easier to digest and is high in GABA (a calming amino acid) as well as minerals. The bowl also comes with a package offuikake, a mixture of seaweed, sesame and salt that gives the rice a “kick.” pf
Information in this article comes courtesy of Datamonitor, , 585-396-5128. Tom Vierhile (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director, Product Launch Analytics, Datamonitor.
www.PreparedFoods.com -- Type in “soups” and “side dishes” for several articles on those subjects
www.recipezaar.com/browse/top/94-- Popular soup recipes; rank changes daily
http://bbq.about.com/od/sidedishrecipes/tp/10sidedishes.htm -- Several recipe suggestions for barbecue side dishes
Going Global: Soups and Side Dishes
WHEN IT COMES TO ADDING COLOR TO THE SOUP MARKET, SOUPS LAUNCHED OUTSIDE OF THE U.S. HAVE TAKEN THE TASK LITERALLY.
“COLOUR IS A SIGN OF GOODNESS FROM NATURE” READS PROMOTIONAL LITERATURE TOUTING UNILEVER’S NEW KNORR EAT COLOUR LINE OF SOUPS, DEBUTING IN EUROPE AND SOUTH AMERICA.
EVALUATING THE HEALTHINESS OF FOOD BASED ON COLOR IS AN IDEA THAT IS CATCHING ON, AS SUPERFRUITS LIKE AÇAI AND POMEGRANATE HAVE PROVIDED SUPPORT FOR THE CONCEPT. THE KNORR PRODUCT COMES IN RED, WHITE AND YELLOW COLORS, WITH THE LATTER BOASTING A HIGH-FIBER CONTENT AND FEATURING PUMPKIN, CORN, APRICOT AND LEEK INGREDIENTS.
THE COLOR BLACK HAS COME TO SIGNIFY GOOD HEALTH IN JAPAN, WHERE BLACK VINEGAR AND BLACK SESAME ARE RENOWNED AS HEALTHY INGREDIENTS. NEW IN JAPAN, ASAHI KUROI POTAGE (BLACK POTAGE) IS ACTUALLY A BLACK-COLORED SOUP MADE WITH SWEET CORN BLENDED WITH BLACK SESAME PASTE.
JAPAN’S EZAKI GLICO TAKES THE CONCEPT AND EXPANDS ON IT WITH GLICO KURO HARUSAME SOUP. THIS NEW, INSTANT SOUP IN A CUP FEATURES BLACK STARCH NOODLES THAT ARE MADE WITH VERY FINELY GROUNDHIJIKISEAWEED THAT IS KNEADED INTO THE NOODLE DOUGH.
BEYOND COLOR, WEIGHT CONTROL MAY OFFER NEW MARKET OPPORTUNITIES. IN SOUTH AFRICA, BODYMATE REDUCE & SHAPE FAT BURNING SOUP CLAIMS TO PROMOTE FAT LOSS, A NOVEL CLAIM. OFFERED IN A SUNDRIED TOMATO AND BASIL FLAVOR, THIS FIBER-ENRICHED SOUP SATISFIES THE APPETITE FOR AS LONG AS FOUR HOURS AND ALSO BOOSTS ENERGY.