CAMDEN, N.J. — To tap into today’s trends, the chefs at the Campbell Soup Co. resurrected a 101-year-old soup recipe. The company earlier this year launched a limited-edition Campbell’s Beefsteak Tomato Soup created by John Thompson Dorrance, inventor of condensed soup and president of the company from 1914 to 1930. The soup, made with tomatoes from southern New Jersey Farms, may be the first of several products developed to reflect the company’s culinary heritage.
“We’re so proud of that, and there’s so much inspiration to do more with John Dorrance’s recipes,” said Thomas Griffiths, certified master chef and vice-president of Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute.
Mr. Griffiths is working with a company archivist to bring to life more of the Campbell Soup Co.’s toothsome history. Another icon of the Camden-based business is Pepperidge Farm founder Margaret Rudkin, who began baking bread to feed her family during the Great Depression.
“I have the Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm cookbook on my desk,” Mr. Griffiths said.
Culinary heritage was one of six trends in Campbell Soup’s fifth annual trends report. Other trends include feel-good treats, botanical flavors, limited edition innovation and specialty meats.
Some of these trends may already be spotted in Campbell Soup’s portfolio. For example, a new variety of Campbell’s Chunky Maxx soup features bison.
“We’ll have more to come, other really interesting meats in our foods, in our soups,” Mr. Griffiths said. “People really love them.”
Trends featured in previous reports continue to evolve and expand, Mr. Griffiths said.
“I’d love to think we’re actually moving trends forward and that we’ve become a really important industry leader in the trends at this point, having five years of doing this,” he said.
In an interview, Mr. Griffiths discussed the latest trends and how Campbell Soup’s chefs are translating them in product development.
Food Business News: Can you give examples of recent Campbell Soup’s product launches that fit these trends or trends from previous reports?
Mr. Griffiths: Last year we talked about Southeast Asia … we’re trying all kinds of Southeast Asian fruits and vegetables and ingredients to put in swirl bread. We spoke about pandan last year and hibiscus, ginger, matcha, turmeric … we’re so excited to start putting these not only in our beverages but in salad dressings for Bolthouse and even some of the Garden Fresh hummus, which has really bold flavors.
For a company as big as Campbell Soup, is it a challenge to source some of these more exotic ingredients, such as bison or hibiscus?
Mr. Griffiths: Yes. Or quinoa or some of the vegetables in the Well Yes! soup line that came out two years ago. I work closely with procurement. I go to carrot farms or Vidalia onion farms and meet with the farmers and learn about what they’re growing and learn about better flavors. When it does come to our chefs … we try to make it as authentic as possible, and it takes about a year or a year and a half to build that volume where the farmers can grow these for us.
Does that limit the company in terms of which trends to leverage in product development?
Mr. Griffiths: We don’t really think about that. It’s something we’re respectful of, but we’re so blue sky early on. Our biggest thing is finding authentic foods and authentic ingredients.
For instance, I’ve been learning about ingredients in Charleston the last few years and working with some of the Gullah Gullah chefs down there, and they have these short-grain rices that are really hard to find but are so delicious. It has a certain texture and a certain aroma and certain taste to it. I don’t know that we would get that rice ever into our portfolio, but my role is to find the authentic recipes and learn the gastronomy of the food and bring it here. It’s about inspiring and educating and helping our scientists and our product developers and our marketers so we develop this lexicon so we’re all on the same page for real food.
How does a big company like Campbell Soup articulate a trend like “culinary heritage"?
Mr. Griffiths: We’re getting involved with global markets ... we started with Korea and then Brazil and then Thai food and we’re starting to research Indian food. We’re always researching North American sub-regions … as we continue to learn about these areas it becomes so clear that there are so many young people who want to eat these authentic, flavorful, global foods, and that’s something our chefs are studying and learning not only how to find the ingredients but how to cook them.
What goes into Campbell Soup’s trend research?
Mr. Griffiths: We have chefs going to food shows, food trucks, malls, fast-food restaurants, and we’re constantly trying to find places that have a huge concentration of what’s edgy and new and just starting, and what the masses are looking for. That’s something our chefs really enjoy doing. We take treks to cities. We may go to Manhattan or Philadelphia and go to an area and try to find avocado toast and then try to find sweet potato toast, and then try to find beet lattes and turmeric lattes and areas where they’re making delicious authentic Japanese chocolates in Manhattan.
We’re constantly reading on the internet, we’re going to conferences, food shows like Expo West and the Fancy Food Show in Manhattan. Those are areas that have tremendous concentrations of flavors.
The chefs do a lot of research and study in Bon Appetit and magazines like that and major newspapers, just trying to learn about what people are eating. It’s what we do. It’s what we do in our off time. Most of us plan our vacations around this. Our vacation is what city has authentic food trucks and farmers markets? That’s where we go on vacation that year. It’s something we love to spend time looking into.
It sounds like a lot of work, but a lot of fun work.Mr. Griffiths: It’s so fun. I could go to a farmers market… I would go to Union Market this summer in Manhattan or Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, and I could just walk around for hours talking to farmers from New York state or Connecticut who are growing carrots or potatoes and things. It’s fascinating, and it could help us have a competitive edge in the marketplace when we find a carrot that’s more delicious or a potato that’s more delicious possibly than the one we’re growing presently, and our farmers will grow them for us.