The concept of convenience has been the driving force in the wet soup category for the past five years, leading to a dramatic shift in dollar sales from condensed soups to easier ready-to-serve varieties. Now, longtime leader Campbell Soup Co. is angling to build sales among busier-than-ever consumers by leveraging its flagship soups-Campbell's, Campbell's Select and Chunky-in even more convenient, portable ways.
Consumers have for years rallied behind more convenient ready-to-serve options vs. traditional condensed soup varieties. Sales of ready-to-serve in food, drug and mass outlets excluding Wal-Mart Stores have grown from $1.2 billion in 1998 to $1.8 billion for the 52 weeks ended April 20, while sales of condensed soups have fallen from $1.5 billion to $1.3 billion during the same period, according to Information Resources Inc.
Building on RTS and its convenience implication, Campbell this summer will begin shipping its previously announced line of single-serve microwaveable soups under a new "M'm! M'm! Good! To Go" banner that will also stand for the Soup at Hand sippable single-serve soups Campbell launched last fall.
"There have been limitations in the past to the convenience and portability of soup," says Jody Levy, business director of U.S. soup at Campbell. Understanding what she calls the "universal trend" that shows one out of four meal occasions is eaten on the go, and that convenient meal options now represent a $6 billion category that is growing by double digits, Ms. Levy says the new lineup of 21 "M'm! M'm!" products is "a critically important venture."
Campbell is hoping the launch will further distance it from rival General Mills' Progresso brand, a ready-to-serve line that has no "portable" varieties. Progresso has gotten a 23.5% share of the RTS segment, with sales up steadily from $258 million in calendar 1998 to $424 million in the 52-week period ended this April 20, says IRI.
Progresso's newest launch is a line of Rich & Hearty soups that begin to ship this July. According to Ms. Levy, the competition in microwaveable bowl meals comes from others in the category, among them Masterfoods USA's Uncle Ben's Bowls, which have recently been positioned directly against the lunchtime meal occasion with new Lunch Bowls.
To reflect the importance of the "M'm! M'm!" launch, Campbell will dedicate a significant piece of its roughly $178 million ad budget to the new umbrella theme, with TV, print, extensive out-of-home and an extensive public relations campaign beginning in August. The "M'm! M'm! Good! To Go" banner will be carried across packaging and in-store materials that clearly demarcate a new convenience destination within the soup aisle. WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, handles the umbrella effort.
Campbell says grocery retailers have accepted the entire line because it represents incremental business, replacing fast-food and vending products not bought in supermarkets.
Prior to the "M'm! M'm!" launch, Campbell handed off the convenience banner from its Soup to Go ready-to-serve line to the Soup at Hand line launched last year. Soup at Hand registered sales of $40.3 million in the 52-week period ended April 20, according to IRI, giving it a rank of No. 10 among RTS brands, well ahead of Soup to Go at $18.4 million, down 6.1%. Soup at Hand, backed by $17 million in media expenditures in 2002, was positioned as a no-utensils-required, sippable extension of Campbell's to active women who have previously skipped lunch.