Three ways soups are becoming one of Canada’s hottest menu trends

By Aaron Jourden
July 30, 2013
Soup trends at Canadian restaurants and foodservice operations

From back to basics to beyond the border

Diners today want chef-driven comfort foods like grilled cheese and burgers as well as new takes on classic dishes like poutine. At the same time they want healthy options that make use of what’s local and seasonal, and they are showing a willingness to try almost anything ethnic.

That also means soups. Restaurants are putting twists on familiar recipes, adding healthier selections, sourcing more local and organic ingredients, and expanding ethnic options to make their soups stand out.

And for good reason: Research from Technomic shows that Canadian consumers have a growing appetite for soups while dining out – and not just as a starter or side. Diners today see soup as a main meal option for lunch or dinner more so today than they did a just few years ago.

So what makes soup appealing? Soups can range from indulgent to healthy, from homey comfort food to an exotic international experience. Soup is a great canvas for local in-season ingredients and makes a great complement to salads and sandwiches – especially trend-forward sandwiches such as grilled cheese. And for many people, ethnic preparations like Ukrainian borscht and Mexican posole can be entry points to international cuisines.

A look at Canada’s top soups gives a glimpse of the spectrum of soups available for chefs to innovate and patrons to sample. Among the top 10 soup varieties recorded on Technomic’s MenuMonitor menu-tracking database, it should be noted that Asian soups encompass everything from trendy ramen to pho and won ton soup.

Here’s a brief scan at some of the many ways restaurants are applying today’s trends to soups – as starters, sides and increasingly, the main course:

Classic and comforting, but with a twist

Putting an upscale and gourmand twist on classic comfort foods shows no signs of tapering off any time soon. Diners appreciate familiar foods taken to heightened levels, and chefs continue to find new ways to make old recipes novel again. Soup is enjoying similar treatment, with new takes on classics like split pea, French onion and tomato soup.

On average, this group of ads impacted purchase intent just as much as the promo-focused ads did, while also benefiting from being more likable and attention-grabbing. In other words, they were better – even without putting anything on sale, or having a specific call to action (which is normally a key component of particularly effective ads). In most cases, this performance was driven by effectively communicating that the brand offers high-quality food – something many consumers may not naturally associate with many QSR brands. In effect, they help change people’s minds, and open them up to using the brand for different types of occasions.

Good promo ads effective for FSR

On the flip side, when we looked at all the full-service restaurant (FSR) ads we tested as a group, the key driver of purchase intent overall was the communication of great tasting food. However, the most effective FSR ads also layered in a call to action at a specific (and compelling) price point – an approach that is much more rarely used in FSR than QSR. The relatively few ads that did this increased purchase intent more than longer, more creative, “brand” focused ads that failed to include a clear call to action.

The rapid growth of the “upscale QSR” category is a useful lens for explaining what we are seeing here. This fast growing category is pulling traffic from both FSR and QSR competitors in very different ways. In order to ward off emerging upscale QSR competitors, many established QSR brands need to elevate their food quality perceptions – since they are already well known for their “deals.” Brand ads focused on food quality serve this purpose well for QSRs.

In contrast, the challenge “upscale QSR” creates for many FSRs is less about food quality, and more about what you pay to get it. Promo ads featuring menu items at an attractive price point serve this purpose well for FSRs.

This isn’t by any stretch trying to say QSR should only be doing brand ads and FSR only promo ads. But it does indicate that you might want to re-visit assumptions about the proper mix between the two, depending on what exactly your brand is trying to achieve.

Top 10 soups on Canadian restaurant menus

Focus on how you make high-quality food

The ads that we tested which did an outstanding job of communicating high quality food, whether from QSR or FSR, often shared a common element – they focused on how they make their food, and particularly what they do that’s different from their competitors. From our experience there are many restaurants that do unique things to make their food special, but they don’t really do a great job telling their customers about it. Telling people a compelling and believable story of what these elements of the process are – particularly if it includes cues for things like “fresh” and “made from scratch”  – is often a great way to elevate your food quality perceptions. It works in TV creative, and it will almost certainly work in other types of marketing material as well.

As creating and airing TV commercials is an enormous expense, it is critically important for restaurants to ensure they are getting the maximum return on the dollars they invest. In order to do so, focus on clearly communicating the message that will most increase consumer’s purchase intent. In many cases this involves focusing on something your brand might not be particularly well known for – such as food quality messages for QSR, and particularly good deals for FSR. And be careful with the use of humour when making commercials, because the negative impact of a joke gone wrong is no laughing matter.

See also:

About the author

Aaron Jourden is an editor for Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm. Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights and consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions and results. The company’s services include publications and digital products as well as proprietary studies and ongoing research on all aspects of the food industry. Visit for more information.

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