- Conagra Brands' Gardein launched the first canned soups to feature plant-based meat, according to a company announcement.
- The vegan soups, which are in stores now, are in varieties including Plant-Based Chick'n Noodl', Plant-Based Be'f & Vegetable, Plant-Based Saus'ge Gumbo, Plant-Based Chick'n & Rice and Plant-Based Minestrone & Saus'ge.
- Plant-based meat has appeared in products that include meat as an ingredient — including frozen meals from Conagra's Healthy Choice and Nestlé's Stouffer's brand — but this is the first time any canned soup traditionally made with meat has featured a plant-based alternative instead.
It isn't difficult to make a popular vegan soup. After all, U.S. consumers have ranked tomato, vegetable and potato soups high among their favorite varieties.
What hasn't been done is using plant-based meat to reformulate some of the other traditional favorites, including chicken noodle and beef vegetable. It makes sense that a company with as broad of a capability range as Conagra would be the first to bring this type of product to market. Gardein, which was the No. 2 plant-based player last year, according to Euromonitor data, has already mastered a wide range of plant-based meats. Using them as ingredients in other products is a logical next step.
Conagra does not have a soup company in its stable of brands, though it does make soups under Healthy Choice. While the new soups have high protein contents, vegetables and no cholesterol, branding them as Gardein associates them with the meat alternatives.
As plant-based meat continues to position itself as an alternative to the conventional animal-based variety, manufacturers need to make it a true option and get it in many of the same products in which consumers traditionally find meat.
Gardein's soup cans may also help win over plant-based meat skeptics. While they are clearly labeled "Plant-based" and feature the brand's traditional apostrophe-filled spellings to indicate vegan imitations, the dominant image is a bowl of the soup inside. Consumers see a picture of a soup full of meaty pieces, vegetables, beans and broth that looks as appetizing as one made with animal meat. Additionally, consumers who are unsure of cooking refrigerated or frozen plant-based meat may be more willing to choose a can of soup. The only needed preparation is opening the can and heating its contents, as opposed to using a skillet or grill to fry a patty or baking frozen products in the oven.
As fall begins and temperatures start to dip, it is a good time to launch a soup product. However, as younger consumers opt for fresher, more natural options, canned soup sales have not been good, even for companies known for their success in that area. Last year, as soup sales continued to wane, Campbell Soup undertook a new plan to reinvigorate the segment. Campbell Soup's numbers recovered, with soup sales up 52% over the same time last year in the company's most recent earnings report. However, CEO Mark Clouse said much of that can be attributed to a 30% consumption increase during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a transcript of the earnings call.
Gardein's new soups are something different for the segment, and that — in addition to the work category leader Campbell Soup has put into drawing consumers into that aisle — could help make overall soup sales shine again. It's likely that the coronavirus pandemic will keep consumers reaching to soup for convenience, healing and comfort this fall and winter. Launches that address interest in plant-based meat can help them want to come back, even when the temperature turns warmer and consumers return to their pre-pandemic lifestyles.