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With much exciting innovation currently coming from the refrigerated soup segment (including Tío Gazpacho, featured below in the sidebar "Best Served Cold"), how can makers of shelf-stable soup ensure that customers return to the grocery aisle to buy the companies' cans, pouches and cartons?
One obvious advantage shelf-stable soups have over refrigerated varieties is that they keep a lot longer.
"Refrigerated soups last for three days in the refrigerator," points out Mark Caine, director of sales and marketing at Sydney, Australia-based Massel, which is bringing its Concentrated Liquid Stock product line to the United States. "People need solutions to their flavor needs, not a deadline to use their overpriced 'boutique stock.' Our product lasts for 30 months in the pantry and 10 days in the refrigerator, once opened."
"The majority of consumers want fresh, natural ingredients, unique tastes and recipes, with ready-to-enjoy flexibility," notes Seb Rametta, founder of The Original SoupMan, in Staten Island, N.Y. "Refrigerated soups, like other perishable products such as milk and poultry, have a short use-by date and progressively deteriorate in quality rapidly, day by day, until they expire. During this time, taste and texture change. At the end of the day, taste wins."
Rametta maintains that his shelf-stable soups, in aseptic Tetra Pak cartons that "deliver consistent taste through [their] two-year use-thru date," would be the clear victors in any head-to-head matchup with refrigerated soups.
Ben Hummel, brand manager at Tualatin, Ore.-based Pacific Foods, also agrees that the perishability of refrigerated soups is a definite drawback, presenting the choice for consumers as simplicity itself. "Many people buy soups to keep on hand –- they are easy to have in your pantry, and to take out and heat when you're sick, and great for when you're in a pinch," he says. "Refrigerated soups … can't compete with shelf-stable soups for convenience. [They] require much more planning on the part of the consumer."
Ultimately, however, beyond touting their products' superior shelf life and convenience, center store soup manufacturers can best compete with their refrigerated counterparts "by continuously looking to ensure we deliver what consumers are asking for from our soups in terms of quality and taste," asserts Jill Haspert, associate marketing manager for Progresso at Minneapolis-based General Mills.
Despite incursions from the refrigerated segment, manufacturers of shelf-stable soups are optimistic about the products' future.
"The soup category has been a huge one for retailers and shows no signs of diminished interest by consumers of all ages," asserts Seb Rametta, founder of The Original SoupMan, in Staten Island, N.Y. "It is a delicious, healthy meal solution that fits with all health trends. What our [brand] offers supermarket retailers is the same kind of disruptive growth that they have experienced in other categories where new, artisan food brands have increased category sales by offering consumers better quality and more natural, unique [product]. You saw how craft beers … changed the landscape of the beer category, how regional ice cream brands achieved nationally prominence, and that is what we believe retailers should experience in the soup category."
Continues Rametta: "Food is no longer about mere subsistence. It is one of the largest at-home entertainment categories where families experience new tastes and new experiences. Just look at the growth in restaurant celebrities, food-related television shows and so forth. We believe that retailers have the opportunity to bring excitement and newness, creativity and excitement to the soup category."
As for what's to come in the category, he predicts "higher-quality soups with more sophisticated and bold tastes, [and] with better-for-you nutritional values, than previously found in cans for the last 50 years."
That combination of health and flavor is what Jill Haspert, associate marketing manager for Progresso at Minneapolis-based General Mills, has in mind when she tags as coming trends "soups with more positive health attributes –- protein, vegetables and fiber," in addition to "light soups that taste creamy and indulgent, but are 'permissible' when counting calories."
Both attributes also loom large for Ben Hummel, brand manager at Tualatin, Ore.-based Pacific Foods, who notes that "sodium levels are a constant pressure," that "protein is on an uptick," and that "gluten-free is here to stay, and not just a fad diet." He adds: "We'll continue to see classic ethnic soups from around the globe make their way into grocery shelves, as is evident from the growing Asian and Hispanic influence."
Come what may, his company will be at the forefront of shelf-stable soup's evolution. "Pacific is constantly looking at ways to improve the category and to not remain complacent," affirms Hummel. "We'll be announcing some exciting news for our RTE soup lineup coming up at Expo West" in March.
Health and deliciousness are all very well, but Mark Caine, director of sales and marketing at Sydney, Australia-based Massel, stresses that forthcoming items must also be affordable. "The way of the future is high health-profile products that don't sacrifice flavor and offer the consumer convenience and value for money," he observes.
Best Served Cold
Soup is often touted as the ultimate cold-weather comfort food –- but as gazpacho amply proves, the concoction can also be enjoyed cold.
Among the latest entrants in this admittedly not very crowded field -- at least in the United States -- is Miami-based Tío Gazpacho, whose take on the traditional Spanish soup is a fresh, chilled, ready-to-drink high-pressure processed (HPP) version that won three titles, including Audience Favorite and overall winner of the New Beverage Showdown, at BevNET Live Winter 2014, held Dec. 8-9 in Santa Monica, Calif.
After his product tickled the taste buds of more than 500 beverage professionals in attendance at the show, Tío Gazpacho founder Austin Allan received $10,000 in cash and prizes for winning the showdown.
"While we're currently retailed only in the Florida market, we have been diligently working to expand in the Northeast, and our BevNET successes will be an incredible asset as we launch in the NYC metro market" in January, notes Allan.
Tío Gazpacho comes in three flavors –- clásico, featuring naturally ripened tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper and olive oil; verde, a rich blend of kale, spinach and avocado, with freshly picked mint, cucumber, jalapeno, cumin and black pepper; and del sol, sweet summer variety containing yellow tomatoes, fresh carrot juice and yellow bell peppers –- that can be enjoyed straight from the bottle.