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Product Spotlight: Soups, chowders, bisques
Retail push helps increase category sales
By April Forristall
June 01, 2008
With fuel prices setting new records week after week, dining
out is becoming a luxury many can't afford. More and more
consumers are skipping restaurants in favor of recreating their
favorite meals at home. However, seafood is one food people
tend to shy away from because of its complexity and their
inexperience preparing and cooking it. One way for retailers to
comfort consumers and drive seafood sales is to dish it out
with a ladle.
"Seafood is expensive, but soups are moderately priced,"
says Todd Blount, president of Blount Fine Foods in Fall River,
Mass. "It's definitely a great place for seafood to be used.
It's definitely easier than other seafood because it's pre-made
- you don't have to cook anything."
Seafood soups' popularity has been steadily growing for more
than four years. While restaurants have contributed to the
category's expansion, it's the retail segment that's really
driving the growth.
Data from The Nielsen Co., a New York market research firm,
show that for the 52-week period ending April 19, sales of
canned and frozen/refrigerated seafood bisques totaled more
than $9 million, a $7 million increase from the same period in
Sales of Phillips Foods' seven retail soups increased 300
percent from 2003 to 2007, says Honey Konicoff, the Baltimore
company's VP of marketing.
While fresh sales were up 4.3 percent from last year,
Nielsen data shows sales of canned seafood dropped 3.4
Those numbers don't surprise Guy Simmons, VP of marketing
and product development at SeaWatch International in Easton,
Md. "It used to be condensed soups were the norm, and
ready-to-serve soups are now," says Simmons, whose company
produces eight soups under the Gorton's label and four under
the SeaWatch name.
Years ago no one was interested in fresh soups, Blount
agrees, but with people dining out less, that's changing. As a
result, his company has seen significant growth for its 20-plus
chowders and bisques.
"The fresh growth in retail has a lot to do with customers
looking for restaurant-quality soups that they can pick up and
eat at home," he says. "Providing retailers and club stores
with these soups gets consumers excited because they can't make
seafood soups at home, cannot buy them in the canned aisle and
would normally have to have them in a restaurant."
Still, seafood-based products only account for about 5
percent of the $3.5 billion soup industry has raked in so far
this year, but manufacturers say that's not necessarily a bad
"Seafood soups in retail isn't a saturated market, so we've
found great opportunity there," says Konicoff. "We're not in
the same category as Campbell's; this is something maybe you're
going to plan out a little more. It's an indulgence product, an
entertaining product. It's a treat-yourself-right product."
Blount concurs, "[We] have a harder time competing against
chicken or vegetable [soups] because it's more expensive, but
that allows us to create a niche."
That niche market also allows seafood-based soups to avoid
the seasonality challenges other soups face. Soups by nature
are considered a cold-weather food, but most seafood soups,
chowders and bisques remind consumers of summer.
"People come to the waterfront and expect to have seafood
soups," Blount explains. "In New England, Maine, the Jersey
Shore - there are more sales in summer than winter," which is
largely driven by tourists' desire for New England clam
"Seafood soups have a little bit more staying power because
of [holidays like] the Fourth of July, with people going down
to the shore and going to the beach,"
Phillips' soups also perform well in the summer months. "A
lot of our sales come from crab, and people think crab in the
summer, so that keeps sales strong," says Konicoff. In fact,
Phillips' Cream of Crab is one of the company's top-selling
"It used to be more seasonal than it is [now]. It's leveled
out more," says Simmons of Sea- Watch. "At most we get a little
bump around October when the weather changes. It used to be
business would almost double. Now it's more year-round."
Not even the seasonal catch-22 can prevent seafood-based
soups from becoming one of the most popular ways for consumers
to eat seafood at home. Seafood-based soups, chowders and
bisques can help keep seafood in the spotlight at a time when
customers are tightening their
Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at