Many times I have advocated the interesting possibilities born out of cross-influencing packaging innovations from one consumer sector to the other. You can call it synergy, or whatever, it is a fact that ideas developed for one particular application, with a bit of creativity and adaptation could be used and star in a different, sometimes completely different, segment of industry.
I wrote this article, when asked by a market research company, what I thought about the future of the soup-market and what new designs and innovations could be implemented. Well, here is the result of my ideas. I describe several existing designs, which in my opinion can perfectly fit into the market for soups, whether it is the dry soups or the liquids ones. I hope it will stimulate some creativity in that market.
It is a rather long story, so I have cut it in 3 parts, to be published over the next few days. To design an innovation you have to know the actual market. So, that’s where we start and continue with possible design innovations. Not only soup for the next week as I will post other articles in between. Here is the first part.
The actual market for soup
Basically there are 2 types of soup: dry (powder) and liquid. The dry powder, particularly the instant cup-a-soup, is popular as it is a small sachet, sometimes a stick and the consumer on-the-go only needs to arrange for a cup and hot water. Disadvantage is that it’s only powder, thus no vegetables or other pieces are incorporated. Only the taste of. The package is simply a flexible (pillow) pouch, sachet or a stick. The advantage for the consumer on-the-go (COTG) is that the pouch occupies little space in his pocket or purse. There is more for powdered soups, as the consumer can use the product in several dishes in the kitchen, not only for (a cup of) soup. It is used in vegetable cakes, as sauces, as layer on a pizza and in pies.
The liquid soup is a different category. The soups come in tins (with or without easy-opening), cups or pots (made from some sort of plastic), in cartons (mainly Tetra or SIG for long life) and in retortable flexible (mainly stand-up) pouches. The advantage of these packaging formats is that the soup can hold pieces of vegetables, meat, chicken etc. It is not a drinkable soup, like the powder, but has to be spooned. Whatever the recipient the consumer needs to arrange for a spoon and a heating device (sometimes also water and a cup)
There are, in general, two types of tins used for soup. The traditional 3-piece steel tin and the 2-piece steel or aluminium tin. Using tins for soup means that the soup has to be sterilized in an autoclave. This heating process influences the taste of the soup. Furthermore the consumer can’t use the microwave to heat for consumption, he is to pour the cold soup from the tin into a microwavable cup or bowl. If the tin doesn’t have a easy-opening the consumer needs a mechanical tin-opener.
For the COTG this isn’t a very attractive packaging. Relatively heavy, not microwavable, requires spoon, bowl/cup and sometimes water. And the taste is affected by the sterilisation process. Needless to say that the tins can be stored under ambient temperature and have a long life span.
Note: Be careful, as tins, aluminium as well as tinplate, need a BPA-layer, dependent of the pH-grade of the soup. Many health conscious consumers avoid buying products packed in BPA containing tins.
Cups or pots
Over the last years, mainly in the UK, you have seen the ready-to-eat liquid soup presented in cups or pots. It started with the delis, which started to sell hot fresh ready-to-eat soup as a lunch alternative. The soup was just cooked, kept hot at the counter and put in a cup the moment the consumer bought a cup. The plastic cups had a cardboard outside sleeve to protect consumer’s fingers from burning. A spoon was supplied over the counter. The consumer walked away with the hot cup, closed with a cap and spoon, went to the park, or wherever and consumed his lunch.
This local initiative attracted some companies to imitate the initiative. However at that moment the soup had to be pasteurised (minimum) or packed aseptically.
For plastic cups pasteurisation (hot filling) is the easiest way to conserve. The cups had to be microwavable as they came to the consumer in a cold status. Furthermore pasteurisation requires a cold ambience in the supermarket, so they had to be stored in the refrigerating section.
As long as the consumer has a microwave available and a spoon, he can bring the cup to the office as lunch. Pasteurisation influences the taste minimally.
Cartons are (often) a long life packaging via the UHT process. The pack is convenient, although NOT microwavable (there is a foil layer in between), the consumer needs a cup (microwavable), scissors to cut the pack open and a spoon to eat, as well as a microwave. UHT is a save process in terms of taste and it can stay in an ambient temperature in the supermarket.
I know Tetra has a material composition without a foil layer, but it hasn’t been used for soup (as far as I know), only for mineral water in Mexico and for sauces from Alfredo in the US. I’m not sure you can use the foil-free material for soup, as it depends on the pH-grade and some more factors of the soup.
Last, but not least. The flexible pouch, mainly the stand-up pouch, is hot filled and pasteurized or retorted. The COTG need scissors to cut the pouch open, a bowl to pour the soup in and a spoon. Note: Most of the stand-up pouches for soup are NOT microwavable. However there are solutions in the material composition, depending on the sterilization process in the factory. The stand-up pouch is a nice clean solution. It can, apart from the microwave, be heated in a pan of water. This solution for heating your soup is also possible for the other packaging formats, but the pouch takes on the heat of the water more quickly.
That is in a bird’s flight the actual situation. I agree with you that there is just little creativity in the soup market in reference to packaging. There are exceptions, but not many and we will talk about them later.
The current trends in food packing can not (yet) be found in the creativity of a new packaging format, but will be centred on material. Eco is the key-word, and many a company will try to green wash its image by announcing eco-friendly material, in combination with natural ingredients. Unfortunately that will not go hand-in-hand with an interesting design for the convenience of the consumer.
In the next part we will have a look at some interesting designs for soup on-the-go.