Cooler temperatures mean it's soup and broth time. But soups can be hot or cold, eaten any time of year. They're versatile and take on many guises: convenient or extravagant, light and healthy or rich and full bodied. They can be eaten as a snack on-the-go or as a full meal.
Consumers' interest in freshly prepared, home-cooked foods are some reasons why soups and broths are popular again. "Consumers continue to demonstrate their interest in home-cooked meals, their willingness to pay for convenience in creating them and their propensity to pay more for a premium product," says Lora Morsovillo, president of the home division at NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y. She says slow cooker sales have gone up each year for the past three years − an indirect indication that broth-based stews and soups are more popular.
Slow simmers and single-serves
"The" soup company, Campbell Soup Co., says it's committed to meeting the changing tastes of consumers, and that means working in a number of different mediums. Campbell was one of the first food companies to develop a K-cup product for Keurig Green Mountain's coffee machines. Slow-cookers are another new appliance for soup. Five new Slow Kettle Style entries were created by Campbell chefs to be "better than homemade," at least according to company claims.
The Slow Kettle soups were among 35 new products recently launched in its U.S. Soup and Simple Meals business − seven times the number of new items brought to market in 2014. Generally, they feature bolder flavors, wholesome ingredients, unique recipes and new packaging choices. Among the offerings are four regionally-inspired Select Harvest soups tapping the authentic flavors of places like New Orleans, New England and the Southwest; and eight new Healthy Request varieties that provide heart-healthy alternatives to popular soup varieties in Campbell's condensed, Select Harvest and Chunky soup lines.
For making easy meals, the company also launched two 50-oz., family-size cans of Chunky soup, which can be prepared in minutes and poured over mashed potatoes or rice. There are also three new Swanson Flavor Boost concentrated broths in easy-to-use packs and two new unsalted Swanson stocks, which add rich beef or chicken flavor without adding salt.
Also new is Swanson's Cream Starter, a lightly seasoned and thickened cream base that can help busy home cooks create restaurant inspired cream soups, sides and entrees. The product comes aseptically packed in a 26.1-oz. brick-style package.
In September, Annie's Homegrown, Berkeley, Calif., debuted a line of Certified Organic soups, including Star Pasta & Chicken, Tomato and Bunny Pasta & Chicken Broth, all featuring kid-friendly fun shapes. This is the first large-scale launch from Annie's since its acquisition by last year by General Mills.
Interested in the soup category for some time, Annie's was able to leverage General Mills distribution and development expertise to bring the products to life in just nine months. Made with Annie's "simple and clean ingredient" promise, the line is the first of many to come this year and beyond, the company says. Available nationally, the soups have no artificial flavors, synthetic colors, preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup.
Also taking advantage of Keurig brewing machines is Kettle Kups by Power Foods Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. The broth cups (available in 12-count cartons) come in Beef, Homestyle Chicken and Garden Vegetable.
Broths are beautiful
Sick with the flu or a cold? Lots of folks swear by chicken soup as a cure. There's something comforting and healing about the experience of enjoying a bowl of chicken soup that begins with good ole’ fashioned chicken broth. Because it's a source of protein, many health professionals claim it supports joint and digestive health.
In fact, lately there seems to be a bone broth craze happening, as bone broth is simmering at pop-up "broth bars" from New York City to Portland. The thin soup, which typically simmers poultry, beef or fish bones (or vegetables only) in water for hours until the bones break down and render fat and flavor, is being sipped regularly by celebrities, paleo dieters and millennials to detox and boost nutrition.
General Mills' Progresso is building steam in the retail bone broth arena as it unveils a premium line of cooking stocks. Made by simmering real bones, flavorful vegetables and aromatic herbs, the stocks are aseptically packaged in 32-oz. easy-pour containers and went national in September. The stocks are rich and complex, thanks to a special simmering method developed by Progresso chefs.
They lend a deep full-body flavor to casseroles, soups, stews, sauces and gravies, while cutting prep time in the kitchen, explains Michael Braden, chef and culinary manager at Minneapolis-based General Mills. "I've prepared a Ramen bowl, a Miso sip and savory pan sauces with this one ingredient as the base," he says. "Stocks are a wonderfully versatile ingredient; they offer a quick, easy way to bring the flavors of home cooking to life."
Broths come as ready-to-use ingredients, as well. International Dehydrated Foods, Springfield, Mo., has a patent pending on JMP Collagen Broth Powder, which is enriched with functional collagen proteins. IDF maintains that JMP contributes to gut health, offers a guaranteed minimum of chondroitin and helps maintain joint health.
In addition to setting the gold standard for 32 percent solids in broth years ago, IDF's recently developed bone broths come in both dry powdered and frozen liquid formats. Accommodating people with less time to spend in the kitchen but who still want high-quality, nutritious foods made simply, IDF says its JMP, chicken broth and SIP Bone Broth Powder can be used for anything from classic chicken noodle soup to trendy culinary creations and hot "comfort drinks" and bone broths. The broths also include beef and turkey, and are available as a handy shelf-stable powder, a frozen concentrated liquid and as spray dried flavor ingredients from fats and broths.
Global flavors, cleaner labels
Retailers positioning fresh soups in deli sections and refrigerated cases are seeing more global flavors, which was one of Boulder, Colo.-based Sterling-Rice Group's top nine "natural" food trends for 2015. Sterling-Rice reports "worldly" flavors are being developed with more authenticity in fresh-prepared soups and broths, such as those from Nona Lim. The Oakland, Calif., company, founded by Singapore native and namesake Nona Lim, makes small-batch, gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO broths, soups and rice/noodle bowl dishes.
Packed in 20-oz. standup pouches, the preservative-free broths include Vietnamese Pho (with star anise, ginger and cinnamon in a reduced beef stock/ vegetable broth), Thai Curry & Lime (vegetable broth spiked with lime, lemongrass, vegetables, herbs and spices) and Miso Ramen (Japnese sesame oil, kombu [kelp] and soybean paste [miso]). The soups, in 12-oz. standup pouches, come in eight flavors such as Kale & Potato, Spicy Rice, Thai Green Curry and Asian Lemongrass.
Nona Lim's products are considered clean label, an important factor processors look for when developing new soups and broths, affirms Karen Silagyi, product manager at TIC Gums, White Marsh, Md. "Consumers are increasingly interested in the ingredients on food labels. For formulators working with soups, delivering a stable product that maintains the desired textural attributes while being clean label becomes even more complex," she says.
One of TIC Gums' clean-label ingredients, Ticaloid 210S hydrocolloid blend, particularly excels in the soup category, says Silagyi. "Ticaloid 210S emulsifies oil to add opacity and prevent separation and imparts mouth-coating, cohesiveness and viscosity for a desirable texture. For frozen soups, it imparts freeze/thaw stability to reduce water separation by preventing large ice crystal formation while freezing. Its low usage level (compared to starch) imparts a cleaner flavor release."
Fiberstar, River Falls, Wis., has seen an uptick in use of its Citri-Fi functional fibers for clean label liquid soups and dry soup mixes to improve mouthfeel, consistency and shelf life. It also aids the emulsification of oil-based flavors in a variety of soups.
"It has several desirable hydrocolloidal properties for soups from a simple broth to vegetable-based tomato soup and dairy-based soups like cream-style and chowders," remarks Tasha Olson, R&D director. "Citri-Fi's natural and clean label status provides fullness of flavor without added stabilizers and it can reduce flavor separation. Many soups hitting the market are ethnic-based, with robust flavor profiles that benefit from Citri-Fi's lack of flavor interference." Because it's not chemically modified, Citri-Fi can be labeled as citrus fiber and can be used in gluten-free and free-from soups because it's allergen-free.
As more consumers snack throughout the day and meal times blur, they're gravitating to soup for its soothing, filling effects. Healthy, tasty options are the idea behind the Tio Gazpacho line from Tio Foods, Miami Beach, Fla. No bowl is required for the new trio of high-pressure-processed chilled soups; they're sippable, right from the polyethylene terephthalate bottle. Introduced initially via freshdirect.com and across Florida, the line expanded this year to New York City.
Inspired by cold-press juices, the organic, ready-to-drink Vegetable Gazpacho sippers are available in Yellow Tomato with yellow peppers and carrots; Kale & Spinach with avocado and mint; and Gazpacho Clàsico, with vine-ripened tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers.