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    Cold Comfort

    Purveyors of the winter favorite weigh in on the best ways to play up the category.

    By Bridget Goldschmidt, EnsembleIQ
    The Original SoupMan is using “Seinfeld” actor Larry Thomas to help raise consumer awareness of the brand.

    Chilly weather and soup go together ? it?s not for nothing that January is National Soup Month.

    To capitalize on this natural connection, Massel, an Australian company launching its vegan, all-natural gluten- and allergy-free Concentrated Liquid Stock in the United States, has introduced 31 Days of Soup, which features a new soup recipe for every day in the month, including a hearty Lucky Lentil Soup. The full lineup of recipes is available online at http://massel.com/recipes/soups.

    ?Who doesn?t enjoy a bowl of hot soup on cold winter day?? asked Mark Caine, director of sales and marketing for Sydney-based Massel (U.S. headquarters are in Carol Stream, Ill.), when the promotion was revealed last November. ?With the convenience of our small 3.8-ounce concentrated stock pouch that makes two full quarts of stock, coupled with the variety of vegetable, chicken-style and beef-style flavors, the soup possibilities are endless.?

    Additional recent promotional activities by the emerging brand have included ?radio campaigns in Chicago, Pennsylvania and California, headed up by [Australian food blogger and actress] Tess Masters, ?The Blender Girl,? who is a big fan of our products,? Caine tells Progressive Grocer, noting that Massel was featured in a Dec. 12 USA Today feature on gluten-free products. ?In store, we are running consistent price promotions, BOGO and catalog exposure, along with in-store demonstrations,? he adds. ?Massel is also very active on social media platforms, including Twitter parties ? with prizes ? and online competitions all revolving around how eating better doesn?t mean you have to sacrifice flavor.?

    Merchandising strategies adopted by the brand include ?off-location displays at the front of the store or near the bouillon set,? according to Caine. ?This draws attention to our points of difference.?

    For grocers hoping to inspire more cold-weather shelf-stable soup purchases, he suggests that they ?communicate the health benefits and that soup can offer an easy, tasty meal that can be satisfying.?

    Package Deals and More

    Although shelf-stable soups have long been available in packaging other than cans, pouches are becoming ever more popular, as evidenced by the July rollout of two Progresso Chili SKUs ? South-west Style White Chicken and Smokehouse Style Pork and Beef with Beans ? in 20-ounce pouches, a move that Jill Haspert, associate marketing manager for Progresso at Minneapolis-based General Mills, attributes to the brand?s commitment to ?new packaging formats outside of the traditional can.? Additionally, Progresso offers its Artisan line of gourmet soups in aseptic Tetra Pak cartons.

    Progresso isn?t just focusing on distinctive packaging, though. ?Consumers told us they were looking for delicious, convenient dinner options that taste like homemade ? and our chili launch directly fits what consumers have asked us for,? asserts Haspert.

    Among those that have offered soup out of the can for some time, Seb Rametta, founder of the ?Seinfeld?-inspired Original SoupMan, based in Staten Island, N.Y., notes: ?Our [Tetra Pak] packaging is a clear advantage that has been an engine for our growth over the last few years. However, it is the quality, unique flavor, distinctive recipes and ingredients, and the authenticity of The Original SoupMan that is the real foundation of our success.?

    The company?s promotional and merchandising plans for this year include an awareness campaign to spark trial among consumers. ?We will have the SoupMan [?Seinfeld? actor Larry Thomas] lead the charge on this ?souper? campaign,? quips Rametta.

    ?We have found to date that in-store displays work best for us, as it makes it easy for the consumer, who is distracted with everyday life and all the messaging in the store, to see there is something new, yet familiar because of the brand, and most importantly, interesting and worthy of trial,? he adds, counseling that prominent soup displays and tastings are sure-fire ways to generate in-store excitement.

    Ready, Set, Soup

    Meanwhile, Ben Hummel, brand manager at Tualatin, Ore.-based Pacific Foods, which also offers soups in aseptic packaging, asserts, ?Cans will continue to slowly decline, as they are not as eco-friendly as cartons, and most contain BPA liners,? which have been identified in scientific studies as a potential health hazard.

    Pacific ? the leading natural/organic ready-to-eat soup (RTE) brand, according to Schaumburg, Ill.-based SPINS ? has expanded its hearty soup line with on-trend Organic Vegetable Quinoa and classic New England Clam Chowder, as well as bringing out 8-ounce single-serve versions of its best-selling Organic Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato and Organic Creamy Tomato varieties.

    When it comes to merchandising product, first in importance, according to Hummel, is getting the set right. ?Best-in-class soup sets understand how each type of soup is used, because there are many subsegments to the RTE soup category: creamy soups, condensed soups, hearty vegetarian/vegan soups, hearty meat soups. It is important to carry a few SKUs of each, as each meets a different consumer need,? including as recipe ingredients or as comfort fare for cold and flu sufferers.

    ?Next, it is important to understand your consumers, and which brand will appeal to them,? continues Hummel. ?Some consumers will shop on price, some on perceived taste, and others on nutrition and quality of ingredients. Each brand should play some role that easily helps consumers find the brand and flavor that appeal to them.

    ?Last, it is important to spot opportunities to promote when relevant,? he concludes. ?Soups are one of those pantry items that you want to have on hand at all times, but that means it may not frequently be on a consumer?s shopping list, and they may need to be reminded about soup in-store.?

    To do that, Hummel urges retailers to ?look beyond soup and consider consumer motivation for purchasing. Why do consumers buy soup? To have on hand for easy, quick meals; as an appetizer for a multicourse meal; to take to work for lunch; and because they are sick.?

    He recommends that grocers create displays to solve those problems for consumers, such as chicken soup cross-merchandised with tea, facial tissues and cough drops, for a one-stop flu remedy shop; shelf-stable soups paired with ready-made salads and sandwiches in the deli; soup placed near bagged salads and bakery breads for quick meal solutions; and, in advance of a predicted blizzard, soup sold alongside bottled water, milk, bread, hot cocoa, and other staples to help consumers stock up on essentials before the storm.

    ?Who doesn?t enjoy a bowl of hot soup on cold winter day??
    ?Mark Caine, Massel

    ?Why do consumers buy soup? To have on hand for easy, quick meals; as an appetizer for a multicourse meal; to take to work for lunch; and because they are sick.?
    ?Ben Hummel, Pacific Foods

    By Bridget Goldschmidt, EnsembleIQ
    • About Bridget Goldschmidt In addition to serving as Progressive Grocer’s Managing Editor, Bridget writes many print and digital features encompassing a range of grocery and fresh categories across the store. Bridget also enjoys on-site reporting assignments at such key industry events as the New York Fancy Food Show and the International Boston Seafood Show, in addition to visiting stores for PG’s prestigious Store of the Month feature. In her years with the magazine, she has developed into a knowledgeable voice on grocery industry trends, sought by such distinguished publications as The New York Times. Follow her at www.twitter.com/BGoldschmidtPG.

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