Soups and sandwiches By Sandra Eagle November 16, 2011
Captializing on a comfort zone
A soup or a sandwich or a combination of the two would have to be one of the world’s most ubiquitous lunches. From childhood through adulthood, a steaming bowl of soup is our connection to comfort, security and a sense of home. It seems that every culture in the world owns a signature soup and many have a signature sandwich as well.
For foodservice operators, the lunch daypart is an opportunity to capitalize on this comfort zone. Linda Strachan, director, foodservice for NPD Group, based in Toronto, says despite experiencing flat traffic for the past three years, lunch remains the most-visited meal at restaurants, with 26 per cent of traffic.
She adds, “QSR is where the growth is for lunch, with the best gains seen for drive-thru. While drive-thru only amounts to 11 per cent of total lunch visits, it grew by four per cent in the year ending May 2011, underscoring the growing consumer need for convenience, portability and things that can easily be eaten in the car without ending up with it on your shirt. More than one out of three restaurant lunches include a sandwich (that doesn’t include burgers) over 600 million annually and growing by one per cent versus last year.”
Soup has staying power
Soup is a mainstay in most kitchens and suppliers are constantly updating their offerings in order to capture the whimsy of lunch time crowds. A 2009 Technomic Canadian Soup Trend Report reports that 64 per cent of consumers expect restaurants to menu three to four soups and prefer a rotating soup-of-the-day menu that includes at least one unique or ethnic soup. Furthermore, half of consumers would probably or definitely order an Asian-style soup.
TrueSoups was launched by Heinz Canada in 2008. The soups are made on a “just in time” basis at the plant, using fresh, mostly locally sourced ingredients. Marla Mitchell, product manager, soup and tomato products with HJ Heinz Company of Canada, based in Toronto, says, “TrueSoups are made totally from scratch in the classical style of homemade soup. There’s never been a frozen ingredient that goes into them. That’s hard to find in a manufactured soup. We try to source locally where we can, which is really a good feeling, but at the same time, when we have to, we source fresh ingredients from around the world.”
The 22 varieties range from tried-and-true favourites like Broccoli and Cheddar and Chicken Noodle to the chef-inspired and recently launched Artichoke Chicken Florentine and Roasted Red Pepper Bisque.
“We have a line-up that includes vegan and vegetarian to gluten free and low fat so there’s a little something for everybody within our product line up. The soups are shipped frozen in four eight-pound bags to a case. They simply need to be heated to serve,” says Mitchell.
While soup is a menu staple all year, Mitchell sees an increased demand for this comfort food from September to March across many restaurants. “We do notice a spike in some varieties for example, like seasonally inspired Autumn Pumpkin, Butternut Squash and Harvest Mushroom Bisque in the fall,” she says. “Loaded Baked Potato does extremely well for us year round, as does Broccoli Cheddar. Roasted Garlic Tomato also does well for us throughout the year.” Regional favourites across the country include chowders on the East and West coasts, and Hearty Beef Stew has a dedicated following in Alberta.
Not only are restaurants offering these soups as their own, chefs take the base notes and add their own touches to create twists on tried and true favourites.
Chef Heinz Lehmann, corporate executive chef for Unilever Food Solutions, North America, says it’s all about giving hardworking chefs and foodservice operators choices in their kitchens. Unilever has recently launched their gluten free line of Liquid Concentrated Bases (LCB) in Canada this year in chicken, beef and vegetable flavours. The LCB comes in 946 ml bottles, is shelf stable and each one makes 24 litres of stock. Chef Lehmann says the LCB is extremely versatile. “It can be used as a broth for soups and used for sauces. It can be used to deglaze pans and as a final finishing flavour for a meat dish.”
In addition to the LCB, Unilever also has 28 varieties of Knorr Soup du Jour, a dry soup mixture for foodservice. Chef Lehmann says, “It seems like every culture has their go-to soups. But the workhorses of the soup world will always be Chicken Noodle, Beef and Barley and the hearty Harvest Vegetable soups and Cream of Broccoli.”
Twist on the classics
Ginny Hare, channel marketing manager, Unilever Food Solutions, based in Toronto, says it’s all about knowing your customer and how far you can go with new flavours. “I think consumers are happy with the classics, but maybe they just want to see an updated version of them,” she says. “Soup is traditionally a comfort food, and I think with the aging baby boomer population comfort foods are still going to remain very strong. You maybe need to add a slight twist to it. With our growing Asian population, there is a growing interest in Asian flavour profiles.”
Chef Lehmann says there is much more interest in hot and sour soups, in miso bases and green and red Thai curry soups. “But people in Canada still want to know the ingredients that are in their soup,” he adds. “They want to see carrot pieces. It could be a mixture of flavour profiles, but people want to see the familiar.”
And what goes better with soup than a sandwich?
According to the 2010 Canadian Sandwich Consumer Trend Report published by Technomic, 44 per cent of consumers say they are more likely to eat sandwiches during the week, rather than on the weekend. Many of these consumers may be relying on sandwiches as a quick and portable option they can pick up for lunch on workdays.
Hare says Unilever’s sandwichpro.com is the go-to website for foodservice operators looking to boost sandwich sales. The site offers a plethora of information, recipes, research and special offers to boost sandwich buys. Recipes include new twists on old favourites, ethnically inspired choices from around the world and up-and-coming trends to enliven sandwich offerings.
Sandwich quality is key
Consumers in the Technomic study also provided insight into why they preferred certain sandwiches, and quality and taste come out on top. Four out of five consumers (80 per cent) indicate that the quality and taste of a concept’s sandwich plays an important part of the decision of where to purchase a sandwich for lunch. Operators should explore how they can enhance the taste and quality of their sandwiches, through preparation style, branded products or premium ingredients.
Half say their sandwich had to satisfy their hunger, while two in five chose their preferred sandwich because it is healthy. About a third of consumers report that affordability and portion size are behind their choice. Three fifths of consumers say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that allows them to customize their sandwich, and offers healthy ingredients.
Technomic also observed several interesting gender differences. For instance burgers are preferred for lunch by significantly more males (24 per cent) than females (12 per cent). This is likely related to the fact that males are less concerned with customization and lighter menu choices. Females prefer perceived healthier options, such as salad-type sandwiches and wraps, more than males do for lunch. Females also prefer panini for lunch, a type of sandwich found to be associated with quality.
The report adds that consumers have clear associations between certain types of sandwiches and sandwich attributes. Operators can use this information to guide menu development as well as to build marketing strategies around specific items. Because consumers often look for wraps and chicken breast sandwiches when seeking out a healthy option for lunch, operators could position these items as better-for-you options and design a marketing message to target female consumers.