Soup and Gravy: Soups get souped up.
Cheddar Beer Soup Mix? Target's trying out some fresh ideas under its Archer Farms brand.
Beer soup? Actually, the product is called Cheddar Beer Soup Mix, and it is part of a new line of soup mixes under the Archer Farms brand of Target, Minneapolis. The other products in the line include Wild Rice Soup Mix, Fiesta Bean Soup Mix and Potato Soup Mix.
Target is just one example of a retailer trying to create more unique private label soup offerings, which seem to be proliferating at a time when gravy - another basic category - remains, for the most part, wedded to just a few standard items in cans and bottles.
Target also offers soup starter mixes - including Tuscan-Style White Bean & Fire Roasted Garlic Soup Starter Mix under its Giada de Laurentiis brand. But for shoppers who want more convenience, Trader Joe's, Monrovia, Calif., offers a line of microwavable rice noodle soup bowls under the Trader Joe's brand that includes Spring Onion and Garlic varieties. While Target's mixes must be simmered for up to 20 minutes, Trader Joe's bowls require only water and three minutes in the microwave.
Retailers cover all bases with soups
According to data from SymphonyIRI Group, Chicago, condensed wet soup makes up the largest subcategory in the private label soup category, with dollar sales reaching $178.5 million for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 12 (U.S. supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandiser outlets, excluding Walmart). However, dollar sales of private label condensed wet soup dropped 1.4 percent during that time period, while those of private label wet broths and store brand wet broth/stock gained 4.7 percent.
Meanwhile, data show that dollar sales of private brand ready-to-serve (RTS) wet soup dropped 6.6 percent to $63.8 million; dollar sales of store brand dry soup slipped 2.5 percent to $24 million; and dollar sales of private label bouillon dropped 1.9 percent to $11.6 million.
Retailers have worked hard to cover all of these subcategories with their private label programs. Even limited-assortment retailer ALDI, Batavia, Ill., manages to make room for most types of soup under its Chef's Cupboard brand - canned condensed and RTS, aseptic and dry.
The retailer doesn't limit its products to just common flavors, either. Its aseptic line includes Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup, and its canned RTS line includes Grilled Chicken & Sausage Gumbo.
Trader Joe's also provides a line of soups in aseptic packaging under the Trader Joe's brand. The line's varieties include Garden Patch Veggie Soup, Organic Butternut Squash Soup, Organic Creamy Tomato Soup and more.
Refrigerated and refined
On the refrigerated soups side, the market has seen some growth. In fact, the SymphonyIRI data show a 3.2 percent rise in dollar sales here.
The Signature Cafe line of refrigerated soups from Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., could be responsible for a good amount of that growth. The line boasts a wide selection of unique varieties, including Coconut and Red Curry Chicken Bisque, Rosemary Chicken with White Bean, Cajun-Style Jamabalaya, Fiesta Chicken Tortilla Soup and Baked Potato Soup with Bacon varieties. The retailer even offers Vegetarian Pumpkin Soup - a seasonal offering - under the Signature Cafe brand.
Aseptic packaging has become increasingly popular for broths and stocks, as seen here with Giant Eagle's Market District Beef Broth. But some retailers also use aseptic packaging for soup, as seen here with Chef's Cupboard Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato from ALDI.
Wegmans, Rochester, N.Y., also is involved in the refrigerated soups space. Offered under the Wegmans Food You Feel Good About brand, the retailer's lineup here includes Tomato Basil with Orzo Soup, Caribbean Black Bean Soup, Broccoli & Vermont White Cheddar Soup and Moroccan Lentil with Chick Pea Soup.
Several of these soups have gotten five-star reviews from shoppers on the retailer's website. For instance, one reviewer posted this about the Broccoli & Vermont White Cheddar Soup:
"I just had this yesterday at Wegmans. It was excellent! Creamy, very tasty and you could really taste the cheddar cheese. It was the best broccoli and cheddar soup I have ever had. Thank you, Wegmans!"
Like Wegmans, The Fresh Market, Greensboro, N.C., also offers unique varieties of refrigerated soups under The Fresh Market brand - and features them on its website. Varieties here include Butternut Apple Squash, Grilled Chicken and Corn Chowder, Lobster Chowder and Hungarian Mushroom Soup.
On the website, the retailer describes its soups:
"Our soups are made with fresh, all-natural ingredients, and they are never frozen - so you always get soup that tastes like it just came from the kettle. Our chef, a classically trained culinary expert from Europe, believes the secret lies in the stock. Every batch of stock is sampled repeatedly to make sure it bears the right balance of seasonings and flavor before our soups are even started."
Store brand refrigerated soups are reaching new heights. Just look at Signature Cafe Coconut & Red Curry Chicken Bisque from Safeway and The Fresh Market's All-Natural Butternut Squash & Apple Soup.
What's in the can?
When it comes to their selection of private label condensed canned soups, retailers tend to play it safe - often just providing store brand versions of Campbell's most popular SKUs. For example, Walmart, Bentonville, Ark., provides such standard varieties as Tomato, Cream of Mushroom, Chicken Noodle and Vegetarian Vegetable in its selection of condensed soups.
But Walmart clearly sees a demand for something different in the RTS canned soup area. Here, the retailer offers varieties such as Chunky Baked Potato with Cheddar & Bacon Bits, Chunky Sirloin Burger and Chunky Chicken & Dumplings under the Great Value brand.
Retailers also are seeing demand for reduced-sodium products in the canned soups sector. And The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P), Montvale, N.J., is one retailer running with the ball here.
In its selection of America's Choice condensed soups, A&P offers a Cream of Mushroom product that is made with sea salt and contains 25 percent less sodium than the product's standard version. And in its America's Choice line of RTS soups, the retailer adds "healthy" to the name of some items. Healthy Chicken Noodle and Healthy Vegetable both have 45 percent less sodium. Meanwhile, Healthy Vegetable Beef has 46 percent less sodium, and Healthy Clam Chowder has 58 percent less sodium.
Gluten-free - the way to be?
Of all the developments in recent years in the store brand soup category, perhaps the most interesting is a line of gluten-free soups from H-E-B, San Antonio. Offered under the H-E-B brand, the soups - which come in microwavable pouches - include such unique varieties as Cheesy Chicken Enchilada.
Trader Joe's offers a microwaveable Spring Onion Rice Noodle Soup Bowl under its Trader Joe's brand, while Target's Giada de Laurentiis line includes a Tuscan Style White Bean & Fire Roasted Garlic Soup Starter Mix.
A review on The Food Allergy Mom blog offers some positive words about the line:
"Before being diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, I loved soup! Although I still make some of my soups [at home], it is nice to be able to purchase pre-packaged gluten-free soup when I'm stocking the pantry for hurricane season."
Not much in gravies
Although much has been going on in the private label soup category, the store brand gravy market hasn't seen as much action. Canned and bottled versions of beef, chicken, turkey and mushroom gravies have been around for a long time, but they don't seem to be winning any converts. The SymphonyIRI data show dollar sales of private label liquid gravy down 6.5 percent to $29.8 million. During the same time period, dollar sales of store brand dry gravy mixes fell 0.3 percent to $37.5 million.