Remember that chicken noodle soup in a red-and-white can from when you were little? It was salty like the sea with matchstick-size noodles and had the tiniest pieces of chicken. Say what you will about its flavor, it was an essential taste of childhood for many—and has been for nearly 82 years.
This week, news comes that Campbell's is changing its signature chicken noodle formula, ditching some of its more chemical-sounding ingredients, like monosodium glutamate and maltodextrin, for a list of just 20, most of which a child could pronounce (though there's still "flavoring" and "dehydrated mechanically separated chicken").
"We're closing the gap between the kitchen and our plants," Denise M. Morrison, chief executive of Campbell, tells the New York Times. "Before, when we talked about our business, we talked about how many cases we shipped. Today, we're talking about our food," she adds.
The move is a somewhat risky one for the iconic brand, which doesn't want to alienate longtime fans. "It's a delicate balance, because these products are beloved," Charles Vila, vice president for consumer and customer insights at Campbell, tells the Times.
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Still, the change appears to be a necessary one. Sales in the canned soup division have gone down across the board, and Campbell's, which accounts for 75 percent of the $1.6 billion condensed soup market, has been hit hard.
The new chicken noodle soup recipe, which the company is currently selling in limited-edition cans with characters from the upcoming Star Wars movie, is just one aspect of Campbell's game plan to maintain its footprint in the food market. The mega-company purchased Bolthouse (which makes juice and salad dressings) and Plum Organics (which makes baby food) in recent years and has started pouring a large percentage of its advertising budget into digital marketing and social media.
"There are 80 million millennials now, and they're shopping and thinking differently about food and in a way that is influential," Morrison adds.
Will the new formula be a recipe for success? The brand will have to wait and see.
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