Menu Innovations | June 2010 | By Levon Kurkjian

Souping Up the Menu

Quick serves that dive into the soup category will find it can boost check averages and loyalty—if it’s done right.

A strong and well-executed commitment to the soup category can play a significant role in helping quick serves increase check averages, enhance their guests’ perceptions of the healthfulness of all of their offerings, and keep guests coming back. Here are just a few benefits of having a strong soup offering on the menu, as well as some observations on what many successful soup programs have in common.

Increase Check Averages

A Technomic 2009 Soup Trend Report concluded that roughly 60 percent of women are more likely to purchase soup as part of a combo meal with a salad or a sandwich. By migrating guests from purchasing single items to purchasing combos that include soup, many quick serves have seen their check averages increase by meaningful amounts and with improved profit margins.

Enhance Perception of Healthfulness

In 2009, Health Magazine crowned the following quick serves as the five healthiest: Panera, Jason’s Deli, Au Bon Pain, Noodles & Company, and Corner Bakery. Each of these concepts is also widely recognized for their extensive and/or high-quality soup offerings. This is no coincidence but rather a clear correlation. To the masses, soup is still considered a very healthy food, and if a restaurant has a strong commitment to soup, the guests’ will make a mental association that provides a very positive halo effect on the overall offerings of a restaurant.

Keep Guests Coming Back

As competition for share of stomach intensifies during this prolonged economic downturn, it is increasingly important for quick serves to innovate in order to separate themselves from competitors and keep their guests excited to come back and try new offerings. A recent Technomic study found that nearly 35 percent of all appetizer innovation in the foodservice industry came from the soup category—the most of any appetizer category. Whether they are new twists on classics, ethnic flavors, or completely unique varieties, innovative concepts are abundantly available in the soup category.

A recent Technomic study found that nearly 35 percent of all appetizer innovation in the foodservice industry came from the soup category.

While there is compelling evidence for quick serves to fully embrace the soup category, to be successful, the commitment to the category needs to be strong and the program has to be well executed. There are a few tactics and philosophies that quick serves successful in the category all have in common.

Flavor is Still King

Despite all of the media hype about consumers making more and more decisions based on the nutritional content of the foods they purchase, when push comes to shove, most consumers are not willing to compromise taste for nutritional benefit. Obviously, great-tasting products that are also “good for you” have the most potential for success, but great taste should never be compromised.

Sufficient Variety = Recognized Destination

The Technomic 2009 Soup Trend Study found that more than 75 percent of consumers are dissatisfied with the breadth of soup varieties at the restaurants they regularly visit. This same study suggests that most consumers expect restaurants to regularly offer three or four varieties of soup. These findings are very much in line with Kettle Cuisine’s observations of successful soup programs. Guests do not really consider a quick serve a destination for soup unless they are offering a minimum of three varieties every day.

Rotations Build Loyal Followings

Many consumers are creatures of habit, and instead of fighting this reality, successful soup programs leverage it. By using websites, point-of-sale materials, or even Twitter or Facebook to let guests know which soups will be offered on which days, a meaningful lift in guest loyalty will follow at quick serves. Guests will make note of their favorite varieties and actively look to revisit the restaurant when it appears on the menu.

Embrace the Demand for Transparency

As a result of the widespread availability of ingredient and nutritional information in the retail world, more and more consumers are now demanding their foodservice operators provide them the same type of information. With the nutrition-labeling mandate put into affect with health care reform, chains with 20 or more stores will eventually have to post nutritional information. But smaller chains outside the mandate’s restrictions can set themselves apart by also posting this information, and quick serves can get a leg up by posting information now, instead of waiting for the mandate to kick in.