While soup branches out into other formats, many manufacturers are happy to keep their products in cans. Kate Miller looks at the market

There was a time when summer was summer and winter was winter and the rest was grey and rainy. The last few years, however, have seen Mother Nature put the traditional seasons in a Scrabble bag and given them a good old shake leaving the public shivering in July and reaching for the sun cream in September.

16.7%

The amount canned food is predicted to grow in the UK by 2015, according to Keynote

For canned food and soups, the unpredictability of the weather has been echoed in sales - both good and bad. According to the Mintel report Soup UK 2011, while the weather was a factor in total retail sales of soup falling by 1% in value to £591m over 2010 and 2011 with sales of canned soup down by 5.3%, overall the picture is good. Mintel expects that the soup market will grow by 22.5% to £724m in value, buoyed among other things by an ageing population - the key user group being over 65s. Also chilled/frozen seems to be bucking the downward trend, up 8.1% largely driven by NPD and in-store location next to other meal solutions.

For the time being though, the weather continues to tease. According to New Covent Garden marketing manager Nick Munby: “With the heatwave in March, sales fell off a cliff earlier than expected, then jumped back a bit but not as much as you’d expect for March, but at the moment weekly sales are well up on last year. But last year we had an Indian summer which seems to be a pattern in the last few years.” Unfortunately for retailers and manufacturers alike, Brits can’t seem to get their heads around cold-serve soup so think only of the product’s warming effect for winter rather than view it as a year-round product.

With the weather being difficult, the market looks to other drivers for sales, innovation being one of them. New Covent Garden is currently trialling a slightly different product with Sainsbury’s convenience stores, which it will roll out to the rest of the market in the autumn. Fresh Bowls is a first for the UK for soup although a similar concept has been seen in the ready meals category. The product is a plastic bowl of soup with a plastic shelf on top of which are vegetables. When the product is heated in the microwave the steam from the soup cooks the vegetables. Once cooked the ‘shelf’ is taken away and the vegetables fall into the soup. “It’s been on trial since the end of May and sales are surpassing our expectation,” says Munby. In September, the entire standard New Covent Garden range is being relaunched with a new pack design and a new premium offer. Called Taste of the World, it comprises six varieties of world-inspired soups. Munby says that the convenience market presents a big opportunity to the company and is hoping to increase its presence.

Ones to watch

Canned heat

Wilsons wants to bag a bigger slice of the convenience market with a launch of canned ready meals exclusively for convenience stores. The new range includes Irish stew, chicken supreme and mild chicken curry. A trial price of £1 will run initially, followed by a regular rrp of £1.29.

tel: 0151 966 7000

Summer tunes

Heinz is using Spotify for its Ultimate Summer Playlist campaign on Facebook. This lets Heinz tomato ketchup Facebook fans listen to a song playlist without leaving their own Facebook page. The Heinz tomato ketchup and salad cream Facebook pages also both feature summer recipes.

tel: 020 8573 7757

Give me five

Heinz Five Beanz (haricot, kidney, pinto, cannellini and borlotti) are naturally low in fat and high in fibre and protein. Cans feature a black label with information about the product’s natural goodness. The launch is being supported by a £2m marketing campaign.

rrp: 84p

tel: 020 8573 7757

Old style

New Covent Garden has launched a range of vintage-style soups. The Great British Recipes range comprises four variants: garden pea, rocket & lovage parsnip, apple & elderflower, vintage Cheddar & picalilli and beetroot & horseradish. They come in outers of six.

rrp: £2.20

tel: 0113 248 0606

Warm it up

It’s time to throw away the saucepans according to HotCan. The self-heating can is now being offered as an alternative to the desk sandwich and comes in seven flavours including chicken curry with rice and four cheese ravioli with a chunky tomato sauce.

rrp: £3.30

tel: 01283 576940

The soup category is dominated by the Heinz Classic range, which claims 30% of market share (Mintel), and earlier this year added a twist of chilli to its cream of tomato can and a touch of sage to the cream of chicken. The Heinz Big Soup range, while accounting for a much smaller percentage at 5%, is outperforming the market and this month Heinz hopes to continue this trend by extending the range with the launch of six varieties featuring premium cuts of meat such as Angus steak. The 400g cans will retail at £1.09.

With the acquisition of Premier Food’s East Anglian canning operations last year, the Crosse and Blackwell brand passed to Princes and the company is now hoping to make the brand one of the largest in the soup category in the next five years. The brand portfolio will now cover 20 soups across three lines: Core, Best of British and Premium. Crosse & Blackwell marketing director Chris Wright says: “We’re backing Crosse & Blackwell to become a major ambient food brand over the next five years. Our new soup range is the first wave of new product development and will be followed by new innovations and brand extensions.

“Our research has shown that customers have a strong loyalty to Crosse & Blackwell and it is a much-loved British brand. This has given us the confidence to invest in the brand and launch a major push to secure market share.”

The canned category is split into eight main sectors (according to Keynote): vegetables, fish, soup, meat, fruit, pasta, desserts and cooking sauces. Innovation is also a driver here and earlier this year Heinz launched a twist on the Baked Beanz - Five Beanz, which was billed as ‘Beanz for Grown Upz’. The five different varieties of bean are haricot, kidney, pinto, cannelini and borlotti all in Heinz Beanz tomato sauce. According to Heinz marketing controller Katie Bleach, Five Beanz “strikes the perfect balance of being adventurous without compromising on quality or familiarity. It can be served exactly the same way as Heinz Beanz “.

But with other formats challenging the can, can it continue to be relevent to the modern consumer? Princes’ convenience channel marketing director Graham Breed thinks it can: “Canned food is bought by almost 100% of all UK households and is worth £2.4bn. Although overall volumes have fallen, value sales are up. The challenge is for brands and convenience retailers to get behind the category, communicate the benefits of canned food and continue to innovate.”