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Campbell Looks Way Beyond Tomato Soup

Chorizo. Golden lentils. What would Warhol think?
Campbell Looks Way Beyond Tomato Soup
Illustration by 731. Photographs by iStockphoto (soup); Gregor Schuster/Getty Images (tablecloth)

Campbell Soup’s iconic red-and-white cans dominate nearly half the domestic market. That’s a problem. For the last several years, U.S. soup sales have been sliding. As a percentage of all frozen, canned, and perishable food sales, the staple has shrunk by one-ninth since 2007, from 3.6 percent to 3.2 percent. While Campbell sells V8 vegetable juice, Prego pasta sauce, and a bevy of Pepperidge Farm snacks, soup remains its most important product line. Last year its U.S. Simple Meals unit, which relies heavily on soup products, accounted for 48 percent of its $7.7 billion in sales and 64 percent of its $1.3 billion in operating income. Those sales figures have fallen every year since 2007, and Campbell’s North American soup business has lost market share since 2008.

Company executives cite a generational shift in tastes. Campbell’s research shows that young consumers ages 18 to 29 are 15 percent less likely than the average consumer, and far less likely than middle-aged boomers, to buy soup. They eat out twice as often as their grandparents, and when they cook, they value easy preparation and fresher, more exotic ingredients over canned staples. “They’re more experimental,” says Charles Vila, Campbell’s vice president for consumer insights, who began inviting twentysomethings into the company’s test kitchens last year to analyze their preferences. “They love to sample.”