PhillyInc: Campbell prepares to introduce soups for a new generation

Campbell Soup is introducing 32 items over the next year to stand alongside the old favorites.
Campbell Soup is introducing 32 items over the next year to stand alongside the old favorites.
Posted: July 26, 2012

Campbell Soup Co. began its analyst day in Camden on Tuesday with a weather report.

Investor relations vice president Jennifer Driscoll noted that the temperature was expected to reach 93 degrees. "Good soup-eating weather," she said.

Even though air-conditioning does have some of us wearing sweaters, I'm pretty sure she was kidding. But when soup is the core of your business, as it is for Campbell's, a thermometer reading may be the least of your concerns.

After all, eating trends in America have been tilting against the iconic Philadelphia-area processed-food company. U.S. soup consumption has been in decline for years, according to the research firm MRI. Older consumers may remain fans of the one-pot meal, but those under 25, whom marketers have dubbed the millennials, tend to snub it.

In their webcast, Campbell executives addressed what they've learned about the millennials (exact birth years are fuzzy, but they tend to have been born between 1982 and 1995). They have a "taste for culinary adventure and variety," said CEO Denise Morrison.

And it's not that millennials want only something new. After all, that wouldn't explain the popularity of venerable Pabst Blue Ribbon beer with the group.

"We know they often combine foods typically served at breakfast, lunch or dinner into a single-meal occasion and often eat meals as snacks and while on the go," Morrison said.

Isn't that the description of omelets, hoagies, and pizza? Or for that matter, the tomato soup I occasionally carry in a thermos?

Be that as it may, Campbell Soup is preparing to introduce 32 items over the next year, from new varieties of its Chunky Soups to its soon-to-be launched Campbell's Go Soups line. If wild rice isn't wild enough for you, soon you'll be able to slurp Moroccan Style Chicken with Chick-Peas, Coconut- Curry Chicken, and Golden Lentil with Madras Curry.

I'm not sure these concoctions are that different from Campbell's late lamented Pepper Pot Soup, made from tripe. Talk about adventure.

Morrison said its Go Soups, which are expected to carry a $3 price tag, were "codesigned" with a lot of input from millennials. Maybe, but given that you can buy three ramen-noodle-soup packages for $1, we'll see if adventure can compete with a full belly.

Still, it sounds as if Morrison, who took over as CEO about a year ago, has this $7.7 billion-a-year company trying to stir things up in the soup aisle.

Several financial analysts commented that they couldn't remember Campbell Soup introducing more products at one time as it plans to do over the next year. And Morrison tried to counter their skepticism.

"I know some of you think that Campbell has suffered for a long time from ostrich syndrome, that our heads have been in the sand, and that we've lost the insight or the courage to confront critical shifts in consumer behavior," she said.

It's not that Campbell Soup was standing pat in front of the soup pot. Rather, it spent a lot of money and effort reducing the sodium content of its mainstay soups.

"We should have been doing other things as well," Morrison said.

She made it clear that Campbell Soup   still believes in its core soup business, which accounted for $3.1 billion of its annual sales.

"Make no mistake about this: Shelf-stable soup is immensely important and a valuable business for Campbell," Morrison said. "We can grow it, and we will grow it, and that's reality, not denial."


Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com, or @PhillyInc on Twitter. Read his blog, "PhillyInc," at www.phillyinc.biz.

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