Soup consumption is flat around the world, with the category recording volume growth of less than 1% globally in 2013. While there are some growth opportunities across the developing world, soup volume sales have been on a downward trajectory across most of the Western world for half a decade. This is particularly the case for the largest category, canned/preserved soup, which is in decline across much of Europe and in Australia. The forecast performance for canned/preserved soup is even less promising, with a value CAGR decline of 2% expected in Spain, France and Italy, 5% in Australia and close to 6% in the Netherlands.
Canned/Preserved Soup Growth Prospect by Region – 2013-2018
Source: Euromonitor International
Why are Consumers Rejecting the Can?
The problem is not necessarily soup’s fault, but its packaging, the metal food can. Consumers are rejecting this packaging format.
Metal food cans are notoriously difficult to open. The can is also one of the heaviest packaging formats and is consequently responsible for a large carbon footprint. In addition, metal food cans tend to look virtually identical on supermarket shelves.
Metal food cans have consequently been rejected by younger generations as a dated packaging format filled with old-fashioned-type foods. Soup in metal food cans is still largely assumed to be limited to tomato, chicken noodle, minestrone and pumpkin.
That Campbell Soup felt inclined to use a half-a-century-old Andy Warhol painting to help promote itself – albeit as a limited collector’s edition – is indicative of the problem. Metal food cans are considered a pack type from a bygone era. This is a problem facing metal food cans all the way down the canned food aisle, but it is particularly pertinent in relation to soup.
Such preconceptions are so prevalent in the consumer’s mind that even if new, exciting and exotic flavours were launched in a metal can format, consumers would barely notice.
The can is clearly the problem.
Could Stand-Up Pouches be the Answer?
Stand-up pouches are an attention-grabbing futuristic pack type with none of the negative connotations that tend to haunt metal food cans. The lightweight nature of stand-up pouches significantly reduces their carbon footprint. They are also far easier to open than the metal food cans they are replacing. Furthermore, the larger flat front of a stand-up pouch can be virtually used as a billboard, making it highly suitable for the promotion of new flavours. This is a benefit that brand owners have embraced. Campbell’s Go is available in flavours such as Spicy Chorizo and Pulled Chicken with Black Beans, Coconut Curry with Chicken and Shiitake Mushrooms and Smoked Gouda with Red Pepper.
The sum of all these benefits provides an additional advantage – retailers are able to charge higher unit prices for gourmet soups in stand-up pouches. They are therefore being heavily promoted by grocery retailers.
Who Will Deliver the Knock-Out Pouch?
Stand-up pouches for soup are already showing promise in a couple of markets, namely the US and Australia, championed in both cases by the two biggest soup manufacturers in the world, Campbell Soup Co and HJ Heinz Co. Campbell’s Go has been a success in the US, but this does not necessarily mean that it will be Campbell which dominates the trend globally.
In Australia, for example, it has been HJ Heinz Co, with its Heinz Soup of the Day, which has had the biggest impact. Heinz Soup of the Day has not been quite as adventurous. Instead of the mushroom soup flavour popular in metal food cans, the stand-up pouch version is marketed as “mushroom with a hint of thyme”. Pea soup, meanwhile, has been transformed into the more appealing “minted garden pea”. And so on.
A battle is likely to rage between the two soup giants over the next few years as to who will win the spoils of this new opportunity.
The Stand-Up Pouch May Even Save the Entire Canned Food Aisle
The progress of pouches has not been limited to soup. A similar trend is occurring in canned beans, where HJ Heinz Co has launched Heinz Beanz of the Day. HJ Heinz Co has also launched ketchup in a stand-up pouch, although it has not been embraced by consumers.
The prospect of stand-up pouches emerging as a key packaging format in other categories, where their combination of light weight, easy opening and eye-catching futurism is appealing, is strong. Such opportunities particularly exist in stagnant or declining canned/preserved food categories, where the unenticing reputation of the metal food can as an old-fashioned pack type indicates the need for a major transformation in order to regain consumer interest.
It is uncertain at this early stage to what extent stand-up pouches will take over categories previously dominated by metal food cans, but it is possible that one day consumers will no longer walk down the canned food aisle in supermarkets, instead walking down the “pouched food aisle”.