"They can't replicate the foods they enjoy when they go out," said Darren Serrao, who heads innovation for Campbell.
That realization inspired Campbell's Go plastic soup pouches, which come in flavors such as Coconut Curry, Creamy Red Pepper and Golden Lentil. Consumers tear open the pouch, stick the bag in the microwave for about two-and-a-half minutes then pour the soup into a bowl.
For older Millennials who may just be starting families or advancing in their careers, the company created Skillet sauces in flavors such as Green Thai Curry and Creamy Chipotle. The directions are simple: Heat up some protein and vegetables. Mix in the sauce. Serve with rice or pasta.
The idea is to give consumers the sense that they're creating their own dishes, without them having to shop for hard-to-find ingredients or do too much tedious prep work.
And then there's the can. Red and white with the distinctive cursive lettering — immortalized by Andy Warhol —it has become a piece of Americana.
"For many millions of people, the can is a very sensible package," said Mary Gregg, who heads packaging for North America. "It's been around for years and people are very comfortable with it."
But executives say with younger consumers, a can just doesn't convey freshness. So the new Go soups come in white pouches featuring colorful fonts and photos of expressive, young faces. The Skillet sauces are meant to be a bit more sophisticated; they come in black pouches designed to evoke the chalkboard menus at sidewalk cafes.
But the new looks come with a price. A can of Chunky soup costs about $2.30 and has a shelf-life of about two years; the new pouches will cost about $3 and are good for about half that time.
HEATING UP SALES
Campbell is counting on its new soups to keep its brand relevant. While the company makes other products like Pepperidge Farm baked goods and V8 vegetable juices, soups account for half its revenue.
Still, executives remain cautiously optimistic about the fate of the new lineup. When the company reported its quarterly results earlier this week, Campbell executives said they expect sales growth in fiscal 2013. But that increase is expected to come from Campbell's recent acquisition of a premium juice company, not from its soups, broths and sauces unit.
In the latest quarter, the Camden, N.J.-based company's profit increased 27 percent as soup sales rose for the first time in two years. But that was partly the result of grocers running promotions and stocking up on low inventories as Campbell prepares to raise prices.
The company was also up against an easy comparison; in the year-ago period, soup sales had fallen by 9 percent and the results were weighed down by restructuring charges.
As for the new products that are expected to be widely available at stores later this month, CEO Denise Morrison said the company should have a better read on how they'll fare after its fiscal first quarter.
"The consumer will let us know if we can be more exuberant," she said.
Executives are pushing on in the meantime.
When the company embarked on its revival efforts about a year ago, Vila, head of the company's insights division, said they wondered if they had lost an entire generation of consumers. It turned out it wasn't that simple; he said that consumers are still open to giving Campbell another chance, but that it's up to the company to deliver.
"We haven't captured them in terms of food, but we've hung onto them," Vila said. "They have memories of Campbell. They're outdated, but they're there."
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