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Producers tout convenience, healthful aspects of ready-to-eat soups
By Lauren Kramer
July 01, 2009
Seafood soups and chowders are as popular as ever today, but
retailers and restaurants are increasingly insisting on
ready-to-serve products from their suppliers.
"In most cases, [buyers] don't even want to have to add
milk," says Guy Simmons, VP of marketing and product
development at Sea Watch in Easton, Md.
"Ready-to-serve soups cost more than condensed varieties,
but convenience and ease of preparation have become very
valuable to operators, so they're willing to pay more," Simmons
says. Many of Sea Watch's customers use a partially prepared
product and add their own signature to it using herbs and
A harvester and processor of clams, Sea Watch supplies clam
chowder, crab soups, shrimp bisque and lobster bisque for
foodservice and retail markets. Soups and chowders, of which
clam chowder is by far the most popular, constitute 25 percent
of the company's business.
"Clam chowder is always high on the priority list of
restaurants," says Simmons. "It's one of those soups people are
more likely to eat in a restaurant than they are at home."
Four years ago, the company eliminated trans fats from its
products by removing partially hydrogenated soybean oil from
the ingredient mix. "That wasn't as big a deal in soups and
chowders as it was in some of the frozen breaded items," says
Simmons. But it speaks to the focus on health and wellness,
which is touching every aspect of the food industry.
As consumers look for fully prepared foods at retail, soups
have served as a good alternative and a popular option in the
deli. "Soups are easy to prepare and are wholesome because of
their mix of ingredients," says Todd Blount, president of
Blount Fine Foods in Fall River, Mass. "It's a well-rounded
meal someone can grab on the go, and it has a sense of
The company carries a full line of some 200 fresh and frozen
soups, and operates a
clam processing plant in Rhode Island.
Traditionally its business has been split 50-50 between retail
and foodservice, but lately Blount's listings in grocery stores
have been growing as deli sections expand. As a result, the
company's retail sales are expanding faster than
"The edges of the store are becoming bigger than the middle
of the store, and we're riding that wave," he says. "Whole meal
replacement has been complicated for manufacturers, but soup
fits that bill very nicely."
One trend Blount has encountered is coming up with
non-cream-based and low-sodium seafood soups.
"Because of the focus on health, we're trying to come up
with alternatives," he says, citing the company's tomato-based
clam chowder as one example. "With some products it doesn't
make sense to reduce sodium because it will change that
particular soup, but we're trying to present alternatives to
retailers and create variety in the seafood soup world."
Another alternative Blount has presented is shrimp and black
bean soup. "These things are sometimes hard to sell," he
admits. "You have to do a lot of sampling. But once people try
it, they love it."
Not all seafood soups sell equally well. Blount says his
experience with salmon soups, for example, has never been
overwhelmingly successful. The Alaskan king crab soup, sold
under the Legal Seafood brand, by contrast, is very popular.
"People are becoming more comfortable with crab in soup, as
well as scallops and shrimps," he says. "Slowly, we're getting
people used to having new seafood proteins in their soup."
Dennis Gavagan, corporate executive chef at Phillips Foods,
has noticed a more varied line of products. "You're seeing
broth soups, cream soups, ethnic-oriented soups and noodle
bowls, as well as more sophisticated, innovative products in
the private-label brands," he says.
Phillips Foods sees a 30 percent decrease in soup sales in
summer versus winter, but its top sellers have stood the test
of time: cream of crab, New England clam chowder and lobster
bisque. Last year the company introduced a few new soups,
including chipotle crab and shrimp soup, and creamy shrimp and
fire-roasted tomato bisque.
"Both soups take advantage of the great interest by
consumers in ethnic flavors - in this case, the flair of the
Southwest," says Honey Konicoff, Phillips' VP of marketing.
"Soups are a high-profit item and a great opportunity from a
value-added point of view, than some of your straight protein
sales. While they're not a dominant player in our product mix,
they are always a focus for us."
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British