POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 08, 2012
CAMDEN, N.J. » If your lunch still consists of a bowl of Campbell's tomato soup and a grilled-cheese sandwich, chances are you grew up using a typewriter.
Generations of Americans have moved on from Campbell's condensed chicken noodle and tomato soups in search of heartier varieties with more sophisticated flavors. Now the world's largest soup company is racing to do the same.
Campbell Soup Co. last year began a quest that led executives to a diverse group of cities including Portland, Ore., and London to figure out how to make soups that appeal to younger, finicky customers. In the year ahead, the 143-year-old company plans to roll out 50 products such as Moroccan Style Chicken and Spicy Chorizo. The ingredients may surprise those used to a plain bowl of chicken soup: tomatillos, coconut milk and shiitake mushrooms.
The new soups also won't look like the big, gelatinous chunks that came in the steel cans that built Campbell into an iconic brand. These soups come in plastic pouches that are easy to open and heat up in a microwave in less than three minutes.
The remake could be a do-or-die task for Campbell. Overall canned-soup consumption is down 13 percent over the past decade, according to the research firm Euromonitor International, as fresh soups have become more widely available at supermarkets and restaurants. And Campbell now has about 53 percent of the market, down from 67 percent a decade earlier.
Campbell's changes also illustrate how difficult it is for brands that appeal to older customers to become relevant to Millennials. This group, defined as those ages 18 through early 30s, is heavily sought after by companies and marketers. But Millennials have little in common with their parents, whether it's their tastes, eating habits or cooking methods.
"I grew up with salt, pepper and ketchup," said Chuck Vila, who heads Campbell's customer insights division, which surveys the marketplace for trends. "These guys are playing around with really interesting spices from around the world."
Campbell is counting on its new soups to keep its brand relevant. While the company makes other products like Pepperidge Farm baked goods and V8 vegetable juices, soups account for half its revenue.