Campbell’s ‘fresh-brewed’ soup in a K-cup: The next big thing in healthy convenience or an overpriced instant soup?

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Datamonitor: 'The main reason that Campbell Soup is salivating over this opportunity is that they see the Keurig machine as the key to building soup consumption outside of traditional mealtimes.'
Datamonitor: 'The main reason that Campbell Soup is salivating over this opportunity is that they see the Keurig machine as the key to building soup consumption outside of traditional mealtimes.'

Related tags: Soup, Keurig

On paper, it looks like a winner. Why not put Campbell soup in a K-Cup? It’s worked for coffee, tea and hot chocolate. And it beats donuts if you get the mid-afternoon munchies and don’t want to be consumed with guilt for the rest of the afternoon.

It’s also bang on trend, claims Campbell Soup boss Denise Morrison, who apparently had a Eureka moment when hitting the brew button on a Keurig machine last year:

Consumersare looking for snacks that serve as mini-meals to satisfy hunger, and there is an increasing need for ultra-convenient options​.”

Enter Campbell Soup’s new ‘fresh-brewed’ soup, which hits shelves in 2014 and will come with a small packet of dried noodles and veg that go in your cup first. The K-Cup contains the powdered broth, which will be made by the Keurig machine and poured over the noodles and veg.

If the taste is superior to existing instant soup products, it could be a winner

So is this a hit in the making for the world's biggest soup company, which says more than 80% of Keurig owners eat Campbell’s soup?

It all depends on the experience and the price (still under discussion), according to marketing experts quizzed by FoodNavigator-USA.

In a nutshell, will ‘fresh brewed’ soup amount to the savory equivalent of a premium coffeehouse experience in the comfort of your own home or office, or is it an overpriced and clunky way of making instant soup without a kettle that creates two empty packets instead of one?

(And can you be bothered to flush out your Keurig machine after you use it to ensure your coffee doesn’t come with a hint of chicken noodle?)

Is this just an expensive version of instant soup?

Euromonitor International beverage analyst Jonas Feliciano reckons this probably isn’t going to set the world on fire, but could be a hit in the workplace, and more importantly for Campbell, could create incremental business in a mature category (soup) by creating new eating occasions.

“I think there is the possibility for Campbell’s to penetrate the institutional market, the workplace. I can imagine companies ordering these in bulk along with all the other K-Cup varieties.”

The broth should generate a pleasing aroma that should help sell the experience as being superior to an inexpensive instant soup in a packet

Campbell SOUP k-CUPS
Fresh-brewed soup? The Campbell Soup K-cups - set to hit the market in 2014 - will be produced in plants owned by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, with ingredients made according to Campbell recipes. It is not clear who will manufacture the soup mix as Campbell no longer sells dried soup in the US. The plan is to launch three varieties, including Homestyle Chicken Broth & Noodle.

Datamonitor innovation insights director Tom Vierhile agrees: “The main reason that Campbell Soup is salivating over this opportunity is that they see the Keurig machine as the key to building soup consumption outside of traditional mealtimes.

“If the company can encourage people to snack on soup mid-morning, mid-afternoon or whenever, then this launch could be a game changer."

It also has the potential to give soup a higher profile in new channels, as Keurig machines are now popping up in thousands of workplaces, waiting rooms and offices, he points out.

"This could generate significant incremental sales for Campbell Soup. At a minimum, it gets consumers thinking about soup on a more regular basis."

This could generate significant incremental sales for Campbell Soup

starbucks-K-cups
A perfect example of the fact that shoppers are willing to pay a premium for quality and convenience - even in tough times - the growth of the single serve coffee market has been nothing short of meteoric, growing from $1bn in 2011 to more than $1.8bn in 2012, an 80%+ increase.

As for the concept itself, he says: “It has the potential to be a winning concept but a lot is going to depend upon how consumers perceive the product and the experience.”

He adds: “The ‘garnish’ is separate and certainly looks like traditional instant soup, so that has the potential to fix the perception that this is an expensive version of instant soup. But if the product taste is superior to existing instant soup products, it could be a winner. 

“The key here is the ‘fresh brewed’ concept. The broth should generate a pleasing aroma that should help sell the experience as being superior to an inexpensive instant soup in a packet.”

The Keurig brand reflects a quality experience for a premium price. How will a powdered soup snack fulfill their brand promise?

K-cups-GMCR
Competitive activity has increased since the expiration of some GMCR K-Cup patents last fall, and there has been strong growth in single-serve tea, chocolate, hot and cold fruit drinks and pour-over-ice products

Beverly Murray, founder of branding agency R+M, says the key will be managing consumer expectations. Is this a premium quality product for people looking for something better than canned soup, or a cheap, quick snack to grab instead of a chocolate bar if you need a pick-me-up without the extra calories?

“The Keurig brand reflects a quality experience for a premium price. How will a powdered soup snack fulfill their brand promise? Time will tell. And with a vibrant Keurig fan base and the Internet, time will tell quick.”

If it’s not a winner, Campbell Soup, not Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and the Keurig brand, will suffer, she predicts.

Folgers-K-Cup-large
GMCR recently claimed that 12 million US homes now have a Keurig machine - a figure predicted to increase to 35 million by 2016

Whereas I see this as a low-risk step for the Keurig brand, the pressure is on Campbell's to deliver on the taste and healthy equation. Is Campbell's attempting to lower our ‘healthy’ expectations by calling it a snack?

“At the same time their draft packaging states ‘fresh brewed soup’ and ‘soup mix’ not ‘soup mix snack’ or other. The key to success will be managing my expectation as a consumer."

'Soup as a snack? I am skeptical'

Lori Colman, co-CEO at branding and marketing agency CBD Marketing, notes that the office setting is "perfect for the Campbell’s product since soup is consumed more at lunch than other times of the day​", while the fact that K-Cups are associated with quality means that "Campbell’s probably won’t need to fight that battle for trial at least".

However, there are caveats, she says.

First, "soup-as-a-snack? I am skeptical". 

Second, in office settings, she notes, coffee pods are typically a free perk. "Will offices also spring for soup?  If not, employees will have to bring their own soup pods which brings up the problem of inertia and the question of price."

Finally, she says, there's the "coffee/soup cross-pollination factor...  Although they’ve tested for this in terms of taste, I suspect there will be perception issues to overcome."

 There is just no way to get vegetables to reconstitute in a satisfying way when you simply pour hot water over them

Her colleague Jean Ban, head of PR, however, reckons that soup as a snack might be a winner: "This makes soup a snack, and if you can pour hot broth over something that will reconstitute quickly, you’ve also extended the perception of the Keurig Cup machine you have in your kitchen (or your office) as having a use beyond your morning cup of joe."

But head of research Gina Miller cautions: "In terms of customer experience, I think that expectations are low for this type of product. There is just no way to get vegetables to reconstitute in a satisfying way when you simply pour hot water over them. Campbell’s is probably betting that the ease and speed of preparation will trump taste."

Click here​ to read about the growth of the single serve market with key stats from Packaged Facts. 

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5 comments

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Lower Sodium

Posted by Charles Brady,

Using a Keurig Machine to make soup is a good idea, but DON'T make the soups high in sodium. Consumers are being advised to look at products lower in sodium, so a lower sodium soup would have a better chance of being a good seller.

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good idea

Posted by Chef H,

I don't think that soup as a snack is a bad idea, especially if it is as convenient as Campbell's is stating. My wife will have broth as a snack to satisfy her hunger as will I. I'm a chef and I think there is nothing wrong with soup as a snack, it's low in calories and will satisfy all the senses more than a candy bar will.

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Disappointed

Posted by Denise,

Consumers are being conned into thinking they need ultra convenient snack options. What is more convenient than a healthy apple or banana in the afternoon? Soup is not a snack. It is a meal and should not come from a coffee maker.

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