What happened to drinkable soup? 'It wasn’t the category, it was the product-market fit'

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: Siempre Soups
Photo Credit: Siempre Soups

Related tags: chilled soup, Soup

Chilled drinkable soup had a moment five to six years ago with a flurry of brands entering the niche segment attracting excited investors who backed brands positioning themselves as a fresh meal on the go that consumers could drink like a juice. But what’s going on with the category today, and is there still growth to be had?

Several brands and products in the niche segment have come and gone over the past few years – Sonoma Brands’ Medlie (formerly Züpa Noma), Bonafide Provisions’ Drinkable Veggies line, Mucho Gazpacho, among others) – suggesting consumers weren’t quite in love with the idea of drinking their soup.

However, year-over-year dollar and unit sales of the refrigerated soup category (which includes ready-to-heat soups and ready-to-drink chilled drinkable soup) may paint a different picture.

According to SPINS data for the year to Oct. 2, 2022, dollar sales of refrigerated soup grew +20.3% year-over-year to $819.2m in measured US retail channels*, while unit sales were up +11.3%. The double-digit growth comes on top of an already strong 2020-2021 year where dollar sales grew +18.3% and unit sales grew by +11.6%.

Out of the total soup category, refrigerated soup was the strongest performing subsegment of the entire soup category outpacing frozen and shelf-stable.

Key segments 52 weeks to Oct. 2, 2022 (dollar sales, US retail):

  • Total Soup: +8.8% to $6.57bn
  • Shelf-stable Soup RTE: +7% to $3.81bn
  • Refrigerated Soup: +20.3% to $819.2m
  • Frozen Soup: +1.8% to $74.1m
  • Shelf-stable Soup Mixes: +22.9% to $398.37m

Siempre Soups: ‘It wasn’t the category, it was the product-market fit’

Alison Velázquez, founder of refrigerated soup brand Siempre Soups (formerly Skinny Souping), said that instead of scaling back on the category the company is “doubling down”​ by entering new retail accounts and expanding into areas of the store.

“The subcategory of the refrigerated soups is the fastest growing category and it’s just continuing to grow,”​ said Velázquez, who launched the brand in 2016. 

Velázquez acknowledged on how the category has whittled down to just a few players over the past few years.

“There have been a lot of players that have tried to establish themselves and they have gone out of business. We’ve seen over a dozen competitors like that over the years. It wasn’t the category, it was the product-market fit,”​ noted Velázquez who said that some products leaned too heavily into a beverage identity.

“What a lot of competitors have tried to do is position themselves as a beverage, where we’re very clear that we are a meal,”​ she said.

While sold as a ready-to-eat refrigerated soup that can be consumed straight from the tall plastic bottle, Velázquez said the brand has never emphasized being a “drinkable”​ soup but instead, a convenient, fresh meal option. Emphasizing its fresh food credentials has boded well for the brand as consumer interest in convenient fresh food options is a trend that will never fade, noted Velázquez.

"Fresh foods aren’t going anywhere,"​ she said.

SiempreSoups_pantry

While committed to growing its chilled soup line, Velázquez sees further growth opportunities in shelf-stable soup and launched a complementary shelf-stable line of soup pouches, which she described as a tad heartier with flavors including Vegan Beef Chili (using Beyond Meat), Vegan Chick’n & Rice, Lentil Vegetable, and Tomato Basil.

“I think it’s going to be really disruptive when you see the stable shelf line on shelf,”​ said Velázquez, who noted she anticipates some consumer overlap between its chilled and shelf-stable line but in general, the shelf-stable line would be tapping into a new consumer eating occasion.

Asked about investor interest, Velázquez said that Siempre Soups is in the middle of capital raise to fuel its next chapter of growth as she noted investors are still excited about the future of the soup category in both chilled and shelf-stable categories.

“We’re doubling down on soup. Even if we get a small piece of the $8bn soup category, that would be very significant,”​ she said. 

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