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Chilled fresh soup - a creative consumer product?
Chilled fresh soup - a creative consumer product?
The emergence of soup as a convenience product Soup originated in France, where the evening meal consisted entirely of soup:
The soup was the slice of bread on which was poured the contents of the cooking pot (potage) (Montagne, 1988).
Soup was prepared from local ingredients that were readily and cheaply available. This basic concept has been developed to produce soup in its many forms and flavours as a consumer convenience product:
Convenience soups were first "invented" in the mid-1800s in Germany by a man named Carl Heinrich Knorr (Reed, 1998).
Soup was first retailed to consumers in a dehydrated form, in packets. The soup manufacturing process was updated and developed due to the advances in technology, and resulted in soup being sold to consumers in cans. The canned product is probably still the most readily available and easily produced product. The next stage in the development process was the introduction of a fresh chilled soup. These products were launched at a time when the chilled food range was expanding and filled a marketing niche with a product having a high quality image and convenience factor. This development outlines the "hierarchy of needs" approach to product development, with basic soups being at the bottom of the pyramid and fresh chilled soups at the top.
Classification of soup
Soups can be classified according to their main ingredient: meat, fish or vegetable soups. They can also be categorised into two broad groups:
thin soups, including consommé and broth; and
thick soups, including purée, cream and velouté soups and bisques.
This classification can be further subdivided into ambient and chilled soups. Ambient soup is sold in cans or packets and can be stored safely at room temperature, for long periods. In contrast, fresh chilled soup sold in cartons or pouches, must be stored in the retailer-chilled cabinet or domestic refrigerator and has a short shelf life of between two to four weeks.
Soup can be defined as:
nutritious liquid obtained by boiling meat, poultry, fish and/or vegetable in stock, water and/or milk (Bodenham, 1993).
The consumer soup market can be divided into four sectors:
canned soups, which are available ready to serve or in a condensed form;
packet soups, which are available in dehydrated form and require the addition of water to prepare;
cup instant and/or granulated soups, requiring the addition of boiling water; and
fresh chilled soups that are purchased from the chilled cabinet and have a semi-perishable shelf life of approximately ten to 30 days.
Product development and the role of creative product development have been discussed extensively (McIlveen, 1994; Strugnell, 1995). The range of products available to consumers and the development of this product range can usually fit into a "hierarchy of needs" approach (Strugnell, 1995). At the lower level, the consumer can choose the basic entry-level product. Taking the example of soup this could be a supermarket "own label" canned product. The branded varieties that might include more "up-market" varieties would be the next level in the pyramid. The development of fresh soups is at the top, for the present, of this hierarchy of needs pyramid. Creative product development is seen as adding "layers" to a pyramid, processors endeavouring to keep ahead of competitors and anticipating consumer trends. At present, fresh chilled soups are viewed as being at the apex of the hierarchy of the needs pyramid. One of the major successes of the chilled food market over the last number of years has been fresh chilled soup. Fresh chilled soup has seen tremendous growth, expanding at or near 30 per cent per year (Mintel, 1996) (see Table I).
The convenience aspect of chilled foods has clearly played a large part in driving the chilled food market to its successful position within the overall food retail market. Changes in consumer eating habits and changing lifestyles such as increasing number of women working, single person households, greater affluence and more leisure time have led to a demand for convenience foods (Marshall, 1995). Convenience has become a very desirable attribute for a food product and a key factor in purchase. Chilled soups with their fresh quality image and interesting flavours fit perfectly into this niche of the retail market. Furthermore, the fresh chilled soup product also fits neatly into the consumer market for snack products, easily and quickly prepared. It can also be "creatively developed" and marketed as a "healthy" food option, i.e. low-fat or reduced-fat soups. Earlier launched variants were simply ahead of their time and therefore failed. This was a product waiting for a favourable marketing opportunity and the late 1980s provided that opportunity.
Analysis of consumer purchasing habits
A questionnaire was used to determine the soup purchasing habits of consumers. The questionnaire was administered to 200 randomly-selected respondents, on a face-to-face basis in two European cities, Belfast and Dublin. Two locations were chosen to investigate because it was imperative to assess if soup-purchasing habits differed within the island of Ireland. The questionnaire was presented to respondents during the month of March. The questionnaire was analysed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences for Windows (SPSS). Interviews were also carried out with a local manager of a fresh chilled soups processor and a food selector working for a leading retailer. This gave an insight into the industry and helped to validate some of the other methods of analysis. A supermarket analysis was also conducted to assess types of products available.
A qualitative approach was chosen because it is descriptive and inductive; nevertheless such an approach can be expensive and time-consuming. The investigation was limited by a number of constraints. First, there were limited literature and information available on the current soup market. Access to data was restricted due to the confidential nature of manufacturing processes. The locations selected cover a range of socio-economic locations and lifestyles and, although restricted to the island of Ireland, should be applicable to the whole British Isles.
Sensory evaluation of soups
Sensory evaluation techniques were used in the research process, to determine if there was a difference in the product quality between canned, packet and fresh chilled soup. Chicken and vegetable were the varieties chosen to assess, as samples of packet, canned and fresh soup were all readily available. It was also noted that these were among the leading varieties preferred by consumers. A descriptive test, specifically, a multi-profiling test, was used to indicate the difference between the samples. The panellists were requested to assess the soups for a number of characteristics including colour, aroma, total flavour and consistency. The results were statistically analysed using mean values to create an affective test. A nine-point hedonic scale was presented to the panellists to determine the acceptance of the samples. The results were analysed using chi-square to test for levels of significance.
A total of 14 panellists evaluated the soup samples. Soup samples were not boiled, as per the packaging instructions, and served at 50°C. The samples were coded with three-digit random numbers and the presentation of the samples to the panellists was random. Water was provided for rinsing between evaluations. The tests were conducted under controlled conditions in the sensory evaluation laboratory which is designed to BSI 7183 BS Guide to design of test rooms, 1989. The computerised sensory system PSA System 3 Version 2.07a and computerised statistical analysis for sensory data Senstools for Windows Version 2.1 was administered for the collection and analysis of sensory data.
Results and discussion
The main aim of this study was to investigate the current nature of the soup industry. The objectives were to determine the primary reasons for soup purchases and to ascertain if income and social class had any effect on the purchase of fresh chilled soup. A further objective was to determine if there was any perceived difference in product quality, between the canned, packet and fresh chilled products. A range of consumers completed the questionnaires covering a varied sample of respondents; differing in age, sex, marital status and occupation. The questionnaire results (n = 200) from north and south of Ireland were analysed collectively. Any significant differences between the two regions are highlighted.
A very large proportion of the respondents purchased soup on a regular basis (93.5 per cent). This was a very substantial figure and indicates that soup is part of the basic commodities purchased by consumers. The main reason given by some of the respondents for not purchasing soup was that they preferred homemade soup. Comments from such respondents included "homemade soup tastes much nicer" and "homemade soup is much cheaper to make than bought varieties". Some female respondents stated that they made homemade soup because they preferred to know what was in it!
Packet soup was the most popular type of soup purchased by respondents (Figure 1). Fresh chilled soup purchase was high in both regions, closely followed by canned soup. Cup instant soup had the lowest usage rate amongst the respondents. Figure 1 illustrates that there were some differences between the two regions. Packet soup had a much larger proportion of the soup market in Dublin. In Belfast, packet soup also dominated the soup market closely followed by canned soup. It appears that consumers in Dublin may be moving from packet soup to fresh chilled soup. This could be due to Dublin being a more cosmopolitan city than Belfast! It was apparent that consumers in Belfast have progressed from packet soup to canned soup and were gradually adopting fresh chilled soup. The sluggish adoption of fresh chilled soup may be a result of the premium price for this product.
The effect of sex and age on soup purchases
Respondents who used soup daily were more likely to be single males and in the 45-54 and 65+ age categories. The convenience aspect of soup was the most likely reason for its daily usage by these respondents. Females, on the other hand, consumed soup once or twice a week. Respondents who used soup once or twice a week were in the younger age category of 18-34. The result also revealed that females generally purchased more packet, canned and instant soup than males. However, purchases of fresh chilled soup were made equally between both sexes. Respondents in the 35-44 age category were heavy users of packet soups, perhaps reflecting the lifestage when household size is at its maximum and therefore costs are a deciding factor. In general, packet soup is ideal for larger families, being considerably cheaper in unit costs. Increased product development and the better quality of packet soups, may have an impact. Cup instant soup was popular with 18-34 age groups. This was probably due to the convenience aspect of this soup and the increasing number of single person households. Canned and fresh chilled soup was popular with 18-34 and 55-64 age groups. These categories reflect the "empty nesters" and pre-family sub-groups of consumers. Respondents in these age groups may have more disposable income and can afford therefore to upgrade their product choice.
The impact of occupation on soup purchases
The questionnaire results revealed that occupation and income had an effect on the purchase of certain types of soup in both regions. Income had a significant impact on purchases of fresh chilled soup, this variant having a premium price. Essentially, respondents who were in professional occupations purchased fresh chilled soup more frequently than did respondents in other occupations. Perhaps respondents in this category possess extra disposable income, travel more frequently and therefore would have a greater preference for the varieties that are available in the fresh chilled soup range. The high quality, premium image and convenience aspect of chilled foods would probably encourage consumers with a greater disposable income to purchase this form of soup. Packet soup was popular with all consumer groups. All types of respondents irrespective of occupation or social class purchased cup instant soup. Canned soup is very similar to fresh chilled soup in that exotic varieties are available, and it resembles the premium taste of fresh chilled soup.
Soup varieties purchased by respondents
Table II illustrates the diverse range of varieties that the respondents normally purchased on a regular basis. It was evident that vegetable was by far the most popular flavour purchased by consumers. The growth of vegetarianism and the health factor may be one reason to explain the popularity of vegetable soup. Tomato and chicken were also quite popular with respondents. Oxtail soup was not a favoured choice. There was, however, a notable difference in the consumption of oxtail soup in the two regions of Ireland, with respondents in Dublin consuming more.
The soups purchased most frequently by consumers were the basic varieties. Tomato, vegetable, chicken and oxtail were some of the first varieties of soup developed and they are still very popular with consumers today. Relatively new "flavours" such as "chicken and sweetcorn" and "carrot and coriander" were growing in popularity.
In order to understand the nature of consumer demand for soup, the respondents were required to state for what purpose or purposes they used soup. Respondents mostly cited convenience factors (convenience, good snack, "good-standby") as the primary reasons for soup usage. "Comforting when it is cold outside" was another popular reason for soup usage. This highlights that soup was very much associated with cold weather and therefore emphasizes the seasonality of the product. The low response rate to soup being used as a starter to a meal reflects how eating occasions have changed and snacking was the most popular use for soup. There was a disappointing 2 per cent of respondents who used soup in recipes. This may highlight that there was a lack of consumer awareness that soup could be used in recipes or that soup was not associated as an ingredient in recipes. There is certainly an opportunity for product developers here.
Respondents in the higher socio-economic groups predominantly valued the convenience, "good-standby" and snack attributes of soup. The economical value of certain soups was recognised by lower income groups. Retired consumers were most likely to use soup when it was cold outside.
In considering the range of soups, in particular fresh chilled soups, available to consumers, each variety and pack size was accounted for separately. There was a tremendous amount of shelf space devoted to both packet/instant and canned soup in the major supermarket outlets. Consumers had numerous varieties and brands from which to choose with an increasing presence of own label varieties, particularly since the recent arrival of the UK multiples into the island of Ireland. The availability of fresh chilled soups was significantly lower when compared to the ambient soup product range.
Chicken soup. Table III illustrates acceptance for aroma, colour, viscosity and total flavour, between the three product types. The fresh soup product had the highest mean values for aroma, viscosity and total flavour. The fresh soup had quite a distinctive, natural homemade aroma. It was also described by the panellists as the most flavoursome soup and was "thickest" in viscosity, fulfilling consumers' perceptions of fresh home-made soup. The panel described the canned soup sample as having the most acceptable colour. This soup had a natural creamy beige colour with visible pieces of chicken. The packet soup had a low mean score for colour. It was very pale in colour and there were no apparent pieces of chicken in the soup.
A paired t-test was conducted to determine if there was a significant difference between the individual products. Table III illustrates that there was a significant difference in colour between the canned and packet soups at the 5 per cent level of significance. This was hardly surprising given the fact that the panellists described the packet soup as being dull in colour and the canned soup was the "brightest" of all the samples. There was also a significant difference in the viscosity of the canned and fresh soup samples at the 5 per cent level of significance. Finally a nine-point hedonic test was conducted to ascertain the soup sample which was most preferred by the panel. The results indicated that, although the fresh chicken soup had the most desirable attributes, the canned soup was preferred by the panellists.
Vegetable soup. Table IV illustrates the preference for the aroma, colour, viscosity and total flavour attributes of the vegetable soup samples. The canned vegetable soup was the most acceptable product, and was given the highest mean score for all the attributes. The canned vegetable soup was described by the panellists as being bright in colour. In fact it was extremely glossy and colourful with quite substantial chunks of vegetables, resembling a sweet and sour sauce! The fresh soup was paler in colour and had a homemade appearance with distinguishable pieces of vegetables in the soup. The packet soup was dullest in appearance and weakest in aroma of all the samples. The canned soup was described as the most flavoursome soup, and the packet soup was described as slightly more flavoursome than the fresh soup. This was quite surprising given the high quality premium image normally associated with fresh chilled soup.
A two-tailed paired t-test was conducted to discover if there was a significant difference between the product types. Table IV depicts that there was a highly significant difference in the appearance of the soup samples (p < 0.01). There was also a significant difference between the canned and packet soup samples for aroma (p < 0.05) and viscosity (p < 0.01). It was not surprising that there was a significant difference between the packet and fresh soup samples in terms of viscosity (p < 0.05) because the fresh soup was quite thick whereas the packet soup was extremely thin in viscosity. A two-way repeated measures ANOVA revealed that the results were significant (p < 0.01).
Once again, a nine-point hedonic test was conducted to ascertain the soup sample that was most preferred by the panel. The results indicated that, although the canned soup had the most desirable attributes, the fresh soup was preferred by the panellists.
The interviewees believed that the chilled soup market in Ireland resulted from an identification of a gap in the existing mature soup market for a fresh premium product. They stated that the target market for fresh chilled soup was primarily the empty nesters, specifically consumers under 35 and over 55 years of age. They also believed that there was a bias in both categories towards consumers who reside in urban locations and are classified as ABC1 consumers. This validates, to some extent, the information received in the questionnaires. Looking to the future of the soup market in Ireland/GB, the introduction of new soup processing technologies in Ireland, for instance frozen soup, will enhance the market. However, due to the high water content in the product, the "eating quality" of frozen soup may not match the high expectations of consumers. In addition, a certain amount of the convenience aspect of soup would be lost. They believed that the chilled soup market will continue to grow, particularly due to the UK food multiples introducing their own label products. However, they also forecast that canned soup manufacturers will attempt to retain customers and woo customers back from fresh soup products by mirroring the fresh soup product by actively engaging in food product development to produce more adventurous varieties and improved eating quality.
Fresh chilled soups as a product have been a recent marketing development. However, the product has succeeded in obtaining a significant share of the market. This has been achieved by the product offering distinct advantages over existing product types, despite it being retailed at a premium price. The development of fresh chilled soup as a convenience product demonstrates the classic "hierarchy of needs" approach. The initial canned soup, giving a product cheap in price but with a long shelf-life gained at the expense of product quality. Then the development of an instant packet soup, giving a quick and easy snack product but again at the expense of quality. Fresh chilled soups sit at the top of the pyramid being flavoursome, a snack product and very convenient but with a premium price. The next development could be a product with which the consumer can interact perhaps by adding their own garnishes or flavourings purchased as "add-on" features.
Zandra Reed and Christopher StrugnellUniversity of Ulster, N. Ireland
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