Prepared soup has been sold in condensed, dry mix, and ready-to-serve forms for more than 100 years.
Regardless of the format, soup typically is not eaten as a single course; historically, its purpose was to stimulate the appetite for the courses that followed, or to be eaten as a side dish. Thanks to ever-expanding usage occasions, it also has since become popular as a sauce or ingredient for a variety of recipes.
In July, Campbell's launched Kitchen Classics Soup nationally as a replacement for its Ready-to-Serve Classics Soups as part of a major turnaround plan for its soup line. According to the company, this new ready-to-serve (RTS) product is positioned between its familiar condensed soups and its premium RTS soups, such as Select and Chunky. With soup enjoying high household penetration (more than 90 percent of households have at least one soup item on their shelves) the question is, how well can Campbell's deliver on its goal of getting consumers to think about soup differently and stop anemic growth in this category?
The current marketplace
Top-selling brands of dry mix, canned, and jarred soups include Campbell's, Progresso, Healthy Choice, Lipton, and private label. Campbell virtually owns the $1.3 billion condensed soup business with a more than 80 percent share, but its sales in that segment fell 6.3 percent, to $1.08 billion, in 2002. Meanwhile, RTS soups are growing at an annual rate of about 5.3 percent, to $1.04 billion. In that Category, Progresso has siphoned market share from Campbell's by focusing on adult and gourmet soups, though Campbell's RTS soup sales were up 7 percent, to $1 billion, in 2002. Soup tends to be a seasonal product, with sales highest in fall and winter. If revenues don't rise during they period, they tend to remain flat for the year.
Private label is the chief competitor to Campbell's in all markets but RTS, so the idea of creating a brand, Kitchen Classics, that can be a fighter in this market is a smart one. Leveraging its quality product initiative (cold blend processing) and the favorite flavors of its condensed line allows Campbell's to play in a sector it previously watched from the sidelines.
Creating a product or product lines for a new market sector requires knowledge of the key attributes the consumer uses as a frame of reference for the category. By leveraging this information, along with that involving key market trends, manufacturers stand a better chance of creating a product that consumers understand and hence may be more motivated to purchase.
Campbell's is seeking to shift the soup paradigm so that consumers think of its product as a "meal solution" for new usage occasions. During its research, for instance, the soupmaker discovered that one out of four meals is eaten on the go, and that 44 percent of women carry lunch to work or school. Traditionally, Campbell's has aimed it products at Moms and kids, but now it wants to capture more young adults -- a market Progresso has played well. Campbell's RTS Kitchen Classics brand focuses on the heritage of America's favorite soups while adding more convenient packaging , a pop-top lid to promote ease of opening.
Key trends in the market are convenience, flavor, healthfulness, and value. Many soup manufacturers have created convenient packaging in response to hectic consumer lifestyles.
Campbell's Kitchen Classics soups are available in 18.3 oz. cans (two servings) at a price point of $1.69 per can. The product's graphics leverage Campbell's traditional red and white colors, but also employ the color blue for the words "Kitchen Classics Soup," as well as for a band encircling a prominent soup bowl. For Chicken Noodle, there is a flag-like burst highlighting the fact that the soup contains more chicken. Label language is in both English and Spanish.
Aroma, flavor, and texture are all critical to the perception of quality and freshness in soup. The same is true of consistency and ingredient piece size, which are especially important if the objective is to move soup from "kid's lunch" to side dish, appetizer or snack , even a meal. The flavor of the Chicken Noodle Kitchen Classics soup is noticeably different from other chicken noodle products offered by Campbell's. The new product features vegetables that are larger and crisper than the condensed versions. Likewise, the broth is clearer than that of its condensed cousin and goes a long way toward making this product seem more "real " and less processed. The soup is flavorful, with a non-threatening chicken base that lacks some of the challenging flavor notes of more expensive products. The noodles are notable for their bite , they are not the familiar "slimy" strands found in Campbell's condensed chicken noodle soup. Instead, they are similar to those of Select and Chunky. The chicken pieces are larger than condensed versions but smaller than Chunky and Select. The size and quality of ingredients suggest a meeting in the middle of Campbell's condensed and premium products.
Does the product deliver?
Campbell's Kitchen Classics soups provide a higher level of convenience, courtesy of their pop-top lids and the fact that they require no water. The soup focuses on delivering higher protein content (6g) and fiber (1g) than its condensed sisters, but at a lower price than Chunky.
How to make the idea bigger
This is a well-priced product. What a great idea for Campbell's to outdo private label and then have Progresso playing catch up! Campbell's could leverage its knowledge of appetite to craft some compelling messages that update the notion "soup is good food."
Chicken Noodle Kitchen Classics, does deliver on its promises, providing a comforting choreography of taste, convenience and value. The consumer feels more satiated, but may be looking for something to go with it. To achieve further convenience, consumers must pay more ($2.69) for a microwaveable container.
Yet how many soups does a person need? Most consumers are confused with al the variations of Chicken Noodle soup available today. The picture on Kitchen Classics is similar to the one on Chunky, so consumers may not be sure why it is cheaper. Consumers must read the labels to compare the three brands on items such as protein, fiber and fat content. Do consumers want flavor variety, convenience/ease of use, price/value, quality, or a snack/ meal? It may be too many choices and tradeoffs for the average consumer to make while shopping.
The product is good, for the line, good for the category, but may not deliver enough revenue growth for Campbell's. The product and price will connect with the targeted user group; the product execution is good and is broad enough to reach other potential user groups. But soup is soup. It's simple food. Selling soup is complex. Unless Campbell's can find a way to make the soup category really timely, this is "slow" food that is not going away, but lacks the sizzle to be a big part of lives as we live them today.
Campbell's has four strategies for growth:
1. Provide processed soup with a fresher taste through flavor and quality initiatives to drive overall liking and preference.
2. Provide changes in packaging to enhance the ease of use and make the product more contemporary through design initiatives, thereby delivering more usage occasions.
3. Provide a range of meal options so that "soup" is viewed more broadly: as a beverage, as a side dish, as a meal, as a snack.
4. Provide both consumers and merchandisers with improved shopability.
Hollis Ashman is chief strategist, the Understanding & Insight Group (firstname.lastname@example.org). Jacqueline Beckley is president of the U & I Group (email@example.com). They are on the web at www.consumerunderstanding.net.