If your lunch still consists of a bowl of Campbell's tomato soup and a grilled cheese, chances are you grew up using a typewriter.
Generations of Americans have moved on from Campbell's condensed chicken noodle and tomato soups in search of heartier varieties with more sophisticated flavors. Now, the world's largest soup company is racing to do the same.
Campbell Soup Co. last year began a quest that led executives to a diverse group of cities including Portland, Ore., and London to figure out how to make soups that appeal to younger customers. In the year ahead, the 143-year-old company plans to roll out 50 products such as Moroccan Style Chicken and Spicy Chorizo. The ingredients include tomatillos, coconut milk and shiitake mushrooms.
The new soups come in plastic pouches that are easy to open and heat in a microwave in less than three minutes. The remake could be a do-or-die task for Campbell. The company has about 53 percent of the market, down from 67 percent a decade earlier.
Campbell's changes also illustrate how difficult it is for brands that appeal to older customers to become relevant to millennials. This group, defined as those ages 18 to the early 30s, is heavily sought after by companies and marketers. But millennials have little in common with their parents, whether it's their tastes, eating habits or cooking methods.
The elusive millennials
To understand what makes millennials tick, Campbell executives turned into anthropologists.
The company dispatched executives to London, Nashville, Portland and other "hipster hubs" to meet with younger consumers face-to-face. Dozens were recruited to participate in "live-alongs," in which executives ate meals with them in their homes, peeked in their pantries and tagged along on trips to the grocery store.
In other cases, couples were invited out to "eat-alongs" at trendy restaurants to talk about food in a casual atmosphere. They were asked to bring their favorite pantry items for discussion. Participants responded by bringing a mix of spices and sauces typically found at ethnic grocery stores.
A staff of about a dozen Campbell chefs traveled for inspiration as well. In New York City, the group browsed in spice shops, bakeries and ethnic grocery stores. In Boston, they even ducked into an Urban Outfitters clothing store, just to get a better sense of the overall mind-set of millennials.
After a tour of New York City's food trucks, Campbell's executive chef Thomas Griffiths even began toying with the idea of incorporating kimchee — the pungent pickled vegetable dish from Korea — into a soup. But he knows that will be an acquired taste.
"With something like kimchee, well, that might take a little while," Griffiths said.
The field work led executives to two seemingly divergent conclusions: First, cuisines once considered exotic —Thai, Indian, Brazilian — have become the norm. At the same time, years of dining out mean younger consumers aren't as skilled at making meals from scratch, particularly when it comes to those very ethnic flavors.
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, heat the bag in the microwave then pour the soup into a bowl.
And then there's the iconic can. 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.
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.