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QSR Feature
Doing More with Soup
New flavor trends are elevating soup beyond lunch and into the evening daypart.
Soup on fast-casual restaurant menus.

Marjorie Druker has fond memories of her mother’s chicken noodle soup.

“She used to make a pot of it ever Sunday,” Druker says. “I always had a real love for it. It made me feel wholesome and well cared for. I wouldn’t leave the table all day; I’d eat bowl after bowl, and when I’d get up and start walking I could feel the soup sloshing back and forth inside.”

As founder and executive chef of the New England Soup Factory and author of the popular book called The New England Soup Factory Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes from the Nation’s Best Purveyor of Fine Soup, Druker has plenty of opportunities to feed her craving.

“Soup is always going to be in style,” she says. “Soup is like coffee, it will never go away. People are always going to need it, love it, and want it.”

As true as that sounds, the recent demand for soup has not been brisk. From 1998 to 2003, according to Mintel International’s U.S. Soup Market report, sales in the then-nearly $4 billion category decreased about 1.6 percent. Yet, even while sales were slipping, soup’s global appeal spurred 2,067 new product introductions in 2003 and the first five months of 2004, with the U.S. leading with 505 new products.

Since then, the numbers have somewhat improved.

Last year, Mintel reports, U.S. soup sales reached about $5 billion; a 25 percent increase in current terms, what the report called a “one-year leap” fostered by packaging innovations in 2005.

The bottom line is that soup is coming back, and Mintel suggests that flavor is the driver. More than price, health, or brand, flavor influences consumer choice, according to Mintel. Coupled with an older and even broader trend—increasing interest in ethnic foods—the fact that most soup lovers crave new flavors has sparked a revolution that Mintel predicts will bring soup sales to $6.3 billion by 2012.

Adding impetus to this flowering of flavors is the fact that many are taking root under familiar brand names but in new venues. Examples include lunch counters, discount stores, and quick-serves.

A recent study by Campbell’s Kitchen experts on broth, the base of 83 percent of soups, found a renewed interest in homemade soups from coast to coast.

“The trends we are observing today in homemade soup are a microcosm of what is happening across the food industry,” Campbell’s Vice President Lucinda Ayers says. “Soup is now more than a lunchtime food and no longer relegated to appetizer status.”

The Campbell’s study identified 14 top flavors for 2008 in each of two categories: emerging trends, those with which cutting-edge chefs are still experimenting, and embraced trends, those already accepted at home and in mainstream restaurants.

Emerging soup flavors, according to Campbell’s Kitchen include: watermelon, rhubarb, celery or celery root, pork belly, grapefruit, coconut, candied, and ceviche. Embraced ingredients and flavor trends include: figs, pomegranate, beets, cauliflower, acai, whole grains, caramelized, coulis, and pickled.

“The overall trends in flavors, ingredients, and techniques have an enormous impact on new soups,” Ayers says.

Campbell’s senior research chef, Richard Calladonato, says new trends are not relegated to fine dining.

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