Conventional marketing wisdom suggest that soup was the perfect recession-beater; after all, what could top an inexpensive meal in a can?
But marketing experts may have a little egg on their faces as they review statistics indicating U.S. soup sales have actually dipped by 14% since 2008. In fact, unit sales of ready-to-serve soup have declined 10% since 2008, according to research firm SymphonyIRI Group.
That may be why, in an effort to stimulate a rebound, soup giant Campbell tried to shake up the flagging soup category with the introduction of newly branded V8 soups in 2008, packaged in boxes. And why, last September, the canny company launched a $100 million integrated marketing campaign with the theme "It's Amazing What Soup Can Do" to re-cast its image.
Now a small New England soup company hopes to turn up the heat on its bigger rival. New England Country Soup is trying its own brand turnaround of a different sort, attempting to do an end run around category giants like Campbell's Soup and Progresso.
The company, which introduced its products in 2008, has actually seen sales grow since then to $4 million and is now carried in some 2,000 stores east of the Mississippi, reports the Boston Globe. One of the reasons? It has kicked out the can.
New England Country Soup seems to have the right combination going for it -- the company produces all-natural, low sodium soups in such homey flavors as Chicken Corn Chowder, Nana's Chicken Soup, and Yankee White Bean. New England Country Soup uses family recipes and seeks out ingredients primarily from family-owned producers.
More significantly from a competitive point of view, the soups are packaged in a unique soup pouch: "Our pouches are easy to prepare, are safe for the environment, and have an excellent shelf life. ... Multiple governmental and non-governmental agencies have weighed in on the safety of these pouches..." writes the company on its website.
In a nod to proactive eco-friendliness, the company goes one step further, including an exclusive "Ingredient Tracker" code on every package. The consumer can enter the tracking code from the package online to learn "the farm, field or ocean from which each ingredient in each pouch of our great soup is sourced."
Fact is, New England Country Soup is following a tradition of New England companies that have been innovators in new product marketing and environmental and social leadership, including Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Cabot cheese, Hood milk, and Stonyfield Farm.
Like these other companies, New England Country Soup has adopted a brand image and product strategy that founder M. Peter Thomson says makes his company stand out.
"We are not setting out to unseat Progress or Campbell's from their positions," Thomson told the Boston Globe. "What we want to do is establish a reasonable price point that provides extraordinary value to customers with a superior product."
Still, at $2.50 per pouch, Thomson knows he can't compete with canned soup. But he remains optimistic. "One dollar for a can is a great value," he commented, "except if you don't want what's in the can."