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If you were to survey shoppers at most supermarkets today about where in the store they would go to find soup, the vast majority would still head to the canned soup aisle in the center of store. This is validated by recent market sizing data from Mintel that suggests only about 3.5 percent of all soup category purchases will be made outside of the traditional center store soup aisle in 2011.
However, this dynamic is changing and it is driven primarily by consumers’ growing awareness of the unique benefits of refrigerated and frozen soups.
While these benefits are vast, here are three significant reasons for all food retailers to dedicate more space and resources towards enhancing refrigerated and frozen soup offerings: superior quality, better nutritional value and cleaner ingredient lists.
Most shelf-stable soups are subject to a process called retort. The retort process requires cooking at unnaturally high temperatures for unnaturally long periods of time. Retort significantly deteriorates the taste of the finished product and the texture of many ingredients. Refrigerated and frozen soups, on the other hand, can be cooked as you would cook them at home or as a chef would in a restaurant – each ingredient is prepared and cooked just right.
Better Nutritional Value
The retort process also cooks away much of the important vitamin and mineral content inherently present in vegetables and other ingredients. As such, many of the ingredients in shelf-stable soups are simply used to provide textural elements to finished products as opposed to contributing to a nutritionally well-balanced meal. Further, since so much of the naturally occurring flavors deteriorate in shelf-stable soups, there is a need to inject more salt and fat to return to levels of flavor that are satisfactory to consumers. With refrigerated and frozen soups, not only do you realize most, if not all, of the nutritional benefits of each ingredient, you will also almost always find lower levels of sodium and fat.
Cleaner Ingredient Lists
In order for a product to achieve a one-year or longer shelf life, as is the case with most shelf-stable soup offerings, many different types of artificial preservatives and chemical additives are required. While these ingredients are being better and better disguised, consumers are also becoming more and more savvy, and are demanding prepared foods with ingredients that are real and recognizable. Refrigerated and frozen soups, if prepared properly, are able to deliver on this growing demand in ways that shelf-stable offerings never will.
While the refrigerated and frozen soups category remains small as a percentage of overall soup sales, many industry forecasters project exponentially larger growth for these formats in the years ahead than their shelf-stable counterparts. A number of retailers have already made strong commitments in anticipation of this change by increasing the space dedicated to refrigerated and frozen soups. They are better promoting their offerings and leveraging the many cross-merchandising options available in the store perimeter. The retailers that have reinvested in the refrigerated and frozen soup after years of merely putting product out on the shelf, have realized significant category growth – upwards of 30 percent year over year – and they have benefited from the halo effect of offering a wider range of fresh prepared foods.
Each retailer needs to customize their offerings and merchandising to their shopper base, but in the end, all retailers will benefit by capitalizing on the trend away from shelf-stable soups to refrigerated and frozen soups.
Levon Kurkjian is vice president of marketing at Chelsea, Mass.-based Kettle Cuisine, which has served the supermarket industry with a significant range of refrigerated and frozen soups, stews, chilis, and chowders since 1986 and has helped enhance the credibility and following of many private label soup programs.