Soup is often seen as a stagnant market; a range of winter staples that will offer slow growth for manufacturers and only a standard range of flavours for consumers. The last few years have seen something of a revolution in the soup sector however; all prompted by the pioneers who suggested that soup could be an year-round treat. Mintel’s Amanda White takes an overview of the soup sector and finds out where it’s heading.

Soup is a mature market, with the packet/bowl segments in decline. The market is continuing to rise in value terms however, and it’s all down to the fact that consumers are spending more per purchase, attracted generally by the idea of premium soups, and particularly by the new notion of a fresh chilled soup variety.

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The soup market has long suffered from its seasonal image. As such, much new product activity has taken place over the last few years to attempt to increase its year-round fortunes. Innovation has notably come from the chilled segment, which has shown most growth. There has been a definite trend towards increasingly adventurous/ethnic flavours, more premium positionings for instant soup through the use of added ingredients, organic varieties, and innovations in packaging (particularly for the ambient sector).

Unsurprisingly, Mintel‘s Global New Product Development (GNPD) database, finds NPD launches to be most prevalent between January and March. However, it is interesting to note the large number of launches during July-Sept 2000. These launches are partly attributable to the drive to push consumption in summer, with cold summer flavours; they are also due to the early announcement of new products planned for the winter.

In terms of global activity, from 1999 to date, the number of new product launches has been comparable across Europe and North America. In 2000, for instance, Mintel reported on 307 new soup products in Europe, compared to 298 in North America.

Feast of new flavours

Since the mid to late 1990s, the chilled soup segment has been the most dynamic in Europe (and particularly in the UK). It has fuelled interest and sales growth, and added a premium edge to an otherwise stagnant market. By their very nature, chilled, fresh soups are perceived as “good for you” and “closer to homemade”. Consumer demand for better quality and less processed products has helped fuel this growth in chilled soups.

The dominant branded player in the chilled soup market in the UK is The New Covent Garden Soup Company, followed by own-label retailers. As yet, we have still to see other major ambient players such as Heinz, or Campbell’s make a significant entrance, though this is expected to change as the market as a whole moves increasingly towards freshness.

The chilled soup market has also driven flavour developments in both chilled and ambient sectors, and in terms of flavourings there continue to be two major trends. These are a return to more traditional and wholesome varieties; and a taste for the more exotic that has been prompted by chilled soups. There has also been an emergence of new summer flavours, to counter the problem of seasonality.

A “return to tradition”

A “return to tradition” has been an ongoing trend in many food categories. Its effect on the soup market has been the launch of more regional, hearty and wholesome varieties. Such recent products have included Gallina Blanca‘s “homestyle” soups in Spain under the Potage Casero label; and varieties to be added to this dehydrated soup range include chickpeas & pasta, cream of shellfish and cream of vegetable.

In the late spring of 2001, Sea Watch International introduced its New England Clam Chowder in the US. Available to foodservice operators, the chowder consists of ” succulent clams from the deep, icy waters of the North Atlantic, a robust combination of herbs and spices, and a rich, smooth, creamy broth”.

“succulent clams from the deep, icy waters of the North Atlantic, a robust combination of herbs and spices, and a rich, smooth, creamy broth”

Also during the spring of 2001, Primo Foods introduced its Roasted Vegetable Hearty Soups in Canada.

More exotic flavours

The chilled, premium end of the soup market has meanwhile fuelled consumer demand for more exotic flavours in the soup market as a whole. Producers of canned and instant soup have picked up on this demand and looked for inspiration across the globe, including ethnic flavours and more ambitious taste combinations. The once exotic shark fin flavour soup, for example, is now mainstream in the Far East.


, a Belgian subsidiary of Unilever, introduced its fresh line of Sensations Soups throughout the spring and summer of 2001; comprising of flavours such as chicory & chives, pumpkin & carrots and courgettes & basil. Asian inspired soup mixes have been introduced to Australia and New Zealand by Continental, these include Thai Tom Yum and Creamy Thai Chicken Curry. During the first quarter of 2001, The New Covent Garden Soup range extended its presence in France with four new varieties: parsnip & coconut; broccoli & mustard; grilled aubergine & red pepper; and parsnip & cranberry.

In the UK particularly, soup companies have been slowly attempting to encourage consumption outside of the winter months. “Light” varieties of soup have been launched, with flavours designed for the summer months and suitable for consumption hot or cold. The most notable player in this market so far has been The New Covent Garden Soup Company, whose summer varieties include; Spinach and Parmesan & Thyme. The supermarket retailer Safeway has also introduced a line of own-brand light, summer soups, including varieties such as Gazpacho and Carrot, Orange & Coriander. There is a lot of work still to be done in this area however, as it is still difficult for the average consumer to associate soup with cold food.

Adding value elsewhere

In terms of canned and dehydrated soups, companies have responded to the revolution in soup flavours by focusing on adding more value through exotic varieties, the use of quality ingredients, and the adding of ingredients such as croutons and bacon pieces. Another strategy has seen manufacturers focus on packaging changes for adding value and convenience, for example making a simple move from cans to pouches, or from sachets to plastic bowls.

Two key launches highlight this packaging move.  Heinz Fridge Door is a 1 litre plastic bottled version of Heinz soups, which was launched in countries such as the UK, the US and Australia. The plastic bottle already gives the product a more premium feel than its metal canned counterparts, but it is predominantly positioned as convenient. It simultaneously encourages increased soup consumption; being designed with a shelf life of five days once opened, its fits easily into a fridge door, allowing consumers to pour out the required content while leaving the rest for another day. The product was first launched in the UK in August 2000.

Campbell‘s also launched a similar product last year in the UK. It was introduced under the Homepride brand, which is better known for its sauces. It is an ambient plastic bottled soup (this time in shrink- wrapping), and is again positioned as a more convenient format than canned versions.

Organic future

The premium move in soups has fitted in well with the continuing demand for organic and natural products. As such, chilled and to a lesser extent ambient soups are slowly moving towards organic varieties. However, it is mainly dominated by niche brands, with the exception of The New Covent Garden Soup Company and MarsSeeds of Change brand. We have still to see major organic soups from the likes of the Knorr brand (owned by Unilever Bestfoods), Campbell’s and Heinz. Recent organic examples include canned vegetable broth in the US from Amy’s Kitchen; the Chicken & Leek and Scotch Vegetable Broth additions to the UK’s Go Organic range of jarred soups and the chilled organic soups from Joubère, launched onto the UK market.

By Amanda White, Mintel

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Prepared Soups: The International Market

The 2000-2005 World Outlook for Dried Soup Mixes

Canned Food: The International Market