A move away from condensed soup would be come close to blasphemy for Campbell, whose heritage is built on the cornerstone of its 100-plus-year-old, most revered product.
Discussion of the marketer's strategic direction is expected during Campbell's presentation Feb. 16 at the annual Consumer Analysts Group of New York briefing in Florida.
"The company now concedes that condensed soup will never be completely relevant to today's consumer," said Salomon Smith Barney analyst Jane Mehring in a report issued last week. Facing the realization that growing condensed soup volume "in management's words [is] `like pushing water uphill'," Ms. Mehring wrote, the company is electing to "keep the condensed soup business stable for the next few years while focusing on driving significant growth in the ready-to-serve portion of the portfolio."
Campbell declined to discuss the report and wouldn't discuss future ad plans.
"As it relates to condensed, we are looking at a number of changes," said a spokesman, who declined to name them.
Condensed soup is much larger than ready-to-serve at Campbell, with sales of $1.33 billion in 1988, according to Information Resources Inc. data cited by Ms. Mehring, as compared to $868 million for its ready-to-serve brands. According to her report, condensed soup accounts for 66% of Campbell's soup volume.
"The company's lifeblood has been its condensed soup line," said Schroeder & Co. analyst Robert Cummins.
But the segment is more slow-growing. Sluggish sales of condensed soup -- which has suffered from the decline of its use as an ingredient as home cooking wanes -- caused Campbell to warn last month that earnings being announced this week will come in lower than analysts' projections.
At that time, company executives stated publicly that its condensed-soup marketing effort was falling short.
"Most major product categories that are mature don't show much more than 1% growth a year even if per capita consumption is maintained," said Mr. Cummins. "The products doing better than that are the exception, and [Campbell] was trying to portray themselves as the exception."
According to Ms. Mehring's report, Campbell CEO Dale Morrison's goal was a 4% gain in overall soup consumption, which he sought to achieve through "overall brand equity-building initiatives," among them the current umbrella ad campaign.
Having failed to achieve that 4% lift, however, Campbell is reverting to an earlier strategy of focusing its condensed-soup marketing against three icon brand styles -- chicken noodle, tomato and cream of mushroom -- rather than the entire brand portfolio, Ms. Merhring said.
The company spokesman said the company was still committed to the "Good for the body, good for the soul" work created by BBDO Worldwide, New York. But at least one executive close to the company said Campbell has considered dusting off an old but eminently serviceable tagline, "Soup is good food," created by the agency known at the time as Backer Spielvogel Bates, New York.
An increased focus on ready-to-serve soup wouldn't be welcome news at BBDO, which handles an estimated $100 million condensed-soup budget. Campbell has partly cushioned such a blow already by awarding the shop more ready-to-serve brands.
BBDO now has responsibility for Home Cookin', a brand which is set for restage, along with Soup to Go, a microwaveable individual-serving soup Ms. Mehring said is slated for rollout in August despite difficulties that Campbell attributed to "inappropriate advertising/promotional programs."
BBDO also has a plastic-package, resealable jar line of ready-to-serve tomato soup set for August rollout, said Ms. Merhing, and the upscale Simply Home ready-to-serve brand in glass jars.
Y&R Advertising, New York, has the star performer in the soup portfolio, Chunky, along with the assignment of a new line of Supper Soups in test.
A third agency, upstart Acme Idea Co., Stamford, Conn., has been added to Campbell's soup roster; it is handling the Denver test of Stockpot refrigerated