Consumers and operators alike sometimes think of soup as a primarily cold-weather dish, but with a bit of tweaking of ingredients and flavors to reflect the seasons, soup can be eaten and enjoyed year-round.
For diners with special dietary requirements, soup can be a versatile option during any time of year, since soup offerings can be customized to fit any diet—from gluten-free to vegan, paleo and beyond. But beyond dietary restrictions or preferences, many diners are simply looking for healthier options when they eat, and soup is a great option for those diners, too.
Here are a few tips for operators who want to sell more soup year-round.
Serve up seasonal flavor
The best tasting foods are ones that use in-season ingredients, when they’re at their ripest. For instance, tomato soups and gazpachos will be best toward the end of summer, when tomatoes are abundant and ready to be picked. Butternut squash and pumpkin soups are ideal selections for autumn, and heavier, cream-based soups featuring ingredients such as lentil and sausage are great for wintertime. Cold soups or fruit-forward soups are a unique offering for spring menus as well.
What’s more, in-season foods will call for less adornment with toppings and other additions—which means fewer ingredients and a higher likelihood of matching a diner’s dietary needs.
Offer plant-forward soups
While Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian report finds that just 15% of consumers overall follow some type of restricted diet (ranging from flexitarian to vegan), the industry’s shift toward offering more plant-based/plant-forward foods has been significant.
Restaurants are menuing alternative proteins and unique iterations of classic menu items—such as veggie burgers made with mushroom blends or beets, in addition to the standard grain- or bean-based burgers. This shift has been driven in part by the 74% of consumers who often eat vegan or vegetarian items who also say that they’d like more plant-based protein substitutes on the menu.
For diners who are considering vegan or vegetarian entrees, soup is one of the most popular choices—59% say would choose a vegetarian or vegan soup for lunch, while 51% say they’d be likely to order it for dinner. And, according to Technomic’s2016 Left Side of the Menu: Soup & Salad report, 19% of consumers are more likely to purchase and are willing to pay more for vegan soup, while 18% say the same about vegetarian soup. Operators should offer at least one plant-forward soup—perhaps as an LTO—to capture the attention of these diners.
Go gluten free
Gluten-free soups are a big draw. According to a recent Technomic report, menu incidence of gluten-free soups is up 38% since 2013, and nearly a quarter (24%) of consumers say that they are more likely to purchase and wiling to pay more for gluten-free soups. Replacing wheat noodles with veggie noodles or gluten-free noodles in soups is an easy way to accommodate this dietary requirement. Bisque-style soups are ideal for consumers who seek out soups without gluten, and gluten-free rice can be a substitute for pasta in a pinch.
Set up a toppings bar
The best way to accommodate a range of year-round diners is by providing an array of customizable options. For soup, a toppings bar is a great way to cater to all kinds of consumers. Different soups can be offered as a base—for instance, tomato soup, chicken tortilla or minestrone—and a topping bar lets consumers personalize their bowls. Tomato soup gets kicked up a notch with pepperoni or sriracha sauce, chicken tortilla turns indulgent with a sprinkling of cheese and a spoonful of sweet corn and minestrone is made more comforting with the addition of crackers, for instance.
For operators looking to keep diners interested in soup, making sure that dietary requirements and preferences are accommodated is key. From offering delicious varieties all year long to using clean or all-natural ingredients to serving soups that meet needs like gluten-free or dairy-free, operators can ensure every diner who wants soup finds one that’s craveable.
This post is sponsored by Campbell's Foodservice