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How operators are winning at lunch with soup

Photograph: Shutterstock

Soup is versatile. It can be a star at every course of a meal, from an appetizer to a side and an entree—even dessert. It also wears a halo of healthiness. More than a third of customers—35%—say they feel healthier after eating soup, according to Technomic’s 2018 Left Side of the Menu: Soup and Salad Consumer Trend Report.

So how are restaurant operators leveraging their soup offerings to boost lunch sales? Tactics include amping up soup’s healthy aspects and quality, satisfying demand for variety, innovating with presentation and adding to the value equation with promotions.

Highlighting quality

Touting menu items as “clean” can help drive price points and purchases; it suggests enhanced quality, flavor and healthfulness. A whopping 80% of consumers would be more likely to purchase soup described as “real,” according to Technomic’s report. What’s more, 71% of consumers are more likely to purchase soup labeled as having no artificial ingredients, while 65% say the same for soups that are preservative-free.

It’s easy for restaurant operators to make those menu claims when they start with quality products like Campbell’s® Soup Customizers. These flavorful frozen bases, available in Vegetarian Classic Cream Soup Customizer and Vegetarian Vietnamese Pho, are notable for what they don’t contain. These products have no artificial colors or flavors, no added preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup and no partially hydrogenated oils, and they are also gluten-free.  

Highlighting these high-quality ingredients can be a great way to boost interest in soups not just at lunchtime but also during all dayparts.

With these bases, chefs can exercise creativity and enhance wellness appeal, adding vegetables, proteins, herbs and spices. Health-conscious customers are looking to satisfy their daily nutritional requirements, and soup can be the vehicle. Seventy-four percent of consumers say they are more likely to purchase soup that includes a serving of vegetables (36% of whom would be willing to pay more for it) and 67% are looking for soups high in protein (37% say they would pay more), according to the Technomic report.

Offering more variety

Adventurous younger consumers are driving demand for soup innovation, especially seeking ethnic and spicy flavors. Among the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, 45% are interested in trying ethnic soups such as pho and ramen (compared to 34% of all consumers) and 37% can be enticed to order spicy-flavored soups, according to Technomic. This is an opportunity to jazz up Campbell’s® Vegetarian Vietnamese Pho with noodles, tofu, sprouts and scallions, spiked with some Sriracha or peri-peri sauce. 

Souper bowl

As with every menu item, presentation is key. On the menu, give soup creations catchy names, keep descriptions vivid, emphasize freshness and include descriptors such as spicy, vegan or gluten-free where appropriate. And remember, attractive photos on menus sell soup.

When it comes to presentation, look beyond the usual bowl: Consider serving soups in mugs, Mason jars or the ever-popular bread bowls. Ladling and garnishing soups at tableside creates dining room drama and can garner additional sales from those at the same table or excited onlookers.

If an operator specializes in soup with a range of styles, offering customers a sampling flight can help them decide which are their favorites.

For a point of differentiation, create a soup bar and let customers build their own soup experience. Set up a station with kettles of several varieties flanked by a salad bar that offers a choice of add-ins, including selections of proteins and fresh vegetables, rice and noodles, hot sauces and garnishes.       

Solving the value equation

Perception of value drives purchases: Thirty-two percent of consumers say soup is a good overall value for the money spent. Operators can leverage that impression further with BOGO offers and other meal-extending promotions, especially during the lunch daypart. Several restaurant chains are already having success in driving traffic and sales with this tactic.

For example, the Today and Tomorrow Pasta promotion at Maggiano’s gets customers in the dining room to enjoy one of its pasta specialties—and gives them a meal to take home for later (or the next day) at a discounted price. Similarly, Olive Garden is running a $5 Take Home Entrees promotion, wherein customers who dine in can take home a freshly prepared and chilled entree for just $5 more.

For operators who want to try this strategy, soup is an ideal product. It can be tailored to be hearty enough for entree status and is easy to package for takeout. For instance, beef up Vegetarian Chili base with savory chunks of meat. Plus, chefs will find that bases and soups can be readily incorporated into entrees, such as Mac & Cheese or Loaded Stuffed Potatoes. Opportunities abound with soup, and offering them as part of a “now and later” meal deal is a great way to extend lunch sales beyond the noontime hour.

This post is sponsored by Campbell's Foodservice