Chicken Noodle No More: Forward-Thinking Brands Are Turning to Plant-Based Soups
It's not just the salty broths of your childhood. Raw, organic, and vegan soups are making their way to pantries and kitchens everywhere.
When you’re sick, or cold, or just tired, there’s nothing better than a bowl of soup. And chicken noodle isn’t the only option on the menu.
It’s pretty remarkable to think about: an entire meal contained in one can of liquid. It’s little wonder Andy Warhol found beauty and fascination in ready-to-eat soup, an early figure in the convenience food industry. And in a way, not much has changed since the 60s. Consumers are living increasingly busy lives, and their interest in fast, ready-to-make meals only continues to grow. Soup, over a $16 billion market globally as of 2018, continues to grow steadily in value.
But the contents of that can continue to shift with the culture. More and more, consumers are looking for products that are not only convenient, but conveniently nutritious. In fact, research by Mordor Intelligence found that it’s healthy, nutritious options that are driving the continued growth of the soup category. Also credited in that report is the growing variety of flavors and recipes. A can of ready-to-heat soup, nowadays, can provide not only comfort and a full stomach, but a bona fide culinary experience. As a result, there’s been more interest and opportunity for the growth of plant-based options.
Soup is a quickly growing market
The well-known and well-loved company Amy’s Kitchen has been making an expansive, contemporary range of vegetarian and vegan soups for years, covering the taste spectrum from no-chicken noodle to tom kha. Most of their canned soups boast organic ingredients, and for those worried about sodium content — the main health concern with canned foods — reduced sodium options are offered as well.
Anderson House Foods, in fact, has been quietly making vegan soups since 1983. Their line of Frontier Soups, which are dried soup mixes to which customers just add their own broth and cooked protein. Six of their soup mixes are vegan by default, like their "Ohio Valley Vegetable" or "West Coast Kale & Quinoa." But since it’s BYO meat anyway, actually any of their kits can be used to make a vegan soup — just add a vegetable-based broth and plant protein of your choice instead of the meaty stuff.
And while Amy’s has been in the soup game for ages, other notable plant-based brands are entering the space too. Gardein recently launched a line of soups that use plant-based meat in vegan spins on traditional meaty soups and stews, like “chick’n noodl’” and “saus’ge gumbo.” Their offerings are all on the hearty side, loaded with veggies, rice, noodles, and of course, vegan meats, making them strong options for a meal in a pinch.
Companies are taking a plant-based approach
Upton’s Naturals, a plant-based brand out of Chicago best known for their seitan products, is not far behind. This fall, they will be releasing their own line of canned soups. Similarly, these meaty soups are on the heartier side. Brands like Gardein and Upton’s Naturals are tuned in to the fact that vegetarians and vegans need more than vegetable pureés to feel satisfied and full.
Even Campbell’s, the soup with its likeness hanging in the Museum of Modern Art, has made some changes since the Pop Art era. Their Well Yes! line of soups focus on more ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients, and includes several vegetarian and even a few vegan options. And they’re not basic, either: They offer a carrot and ginger “sipping soup” for a veggie-forward snack, and protein-rich, hearty options like lentil and vegetable, and black bean and vegetable.
No discussion of ready-to-eat soup would be complete without instant ramen. And fortunately, just-add-water noodle soups have taken a plant-based turn, as well. In 2018, the major brand Nissin started selling vegetarian, veggie-packed Cup Noodles, making an old favorite cruelty-free. And while plenty of other leading ramen brands have veg-friendly options (whether they’re marketed as such or not), it’s a growing space. Dr. McDougall’s sells vegan chicken-flavored and miso ramen in ready-to-go cups, as well as several other kinds of soups that also cater to special diets. For the gluten intolerant, rice brand Lotus Foods sells a full line of cup ramen made with rice noodles, in cross-cultural recipes like "Tom Yum" and "Spicy Kimchi."
Since soup has for so long been a reliable convenience food, it’s hardly surprising that some brands are finding ways to make it even more of a sturdy standby. Readywise, a brand that specializes in non-perishable foods for outdoor activities, emergencies, and everyday life, has a line of soups that come in lightweight, dried packets, and are shelf-stable for three years. Their vegan option, fortunately, isn’t thin and brothy, either — it’s a hearty veggie chili packed with rice and beans.
The brand Miracle Noodle also makes just-add-water soups, several of which are vegan. Knowing that consumers turn to soup for specific reasons, their soups are geared toward various nutritional purposes. Their core soups are focused on detoxing and weight management, and come in recipes like mild lemon curry and Southwest lentil. And for when you’re feeling under the weather, forget chicken noodle — they make a vegan-friendly, lemon ginger “chicken” flavored soup to support your immune system.
Convenience and health consciousness are driving this trend
And since convenience remains the name of the game for busy, health-conscious folks today, it’s only fitting that healthy meal delivery services include soups in their arsenal. Daily Harvest offers a whole roster of vegan, gluten-free ready-made soups in flavors like Thai-inspired turmeric and lemongrass, tomato and zucchini minestrone, and more. Similarly, Splendid Spoon delivers ready-to-eat vegan, non-GMO meals, and soup is a major part of their menu. They have a whole roster of light, brothy soups for cleansing days, like pumpkin pear bisque and fennel consommé, plus heartier soups and stews like Mexican tomato chili and garden minestrone to satisfy your hunger.
And last but not least, Soupergirl is another ready-to-ship brand, getting fresh, prepared foods straight to people’s doors — a particularly valuable practice nowadays, when grocery shopping requires so much vigilance, patience, and preparation. Their options are all vegan, made with fresh, recognizable ingredients you might have in your own kitchen. And Soupergirl ships samplers as well as big meal plans, so you can have delicious, healthy soup ready for every grey day ahead.
Soup is uniquely comforting and excellent at providing nourishment — hot (usually), chock full of veggies and legumes, and a wonderful template for transformative spices. And now, health-minded consumers can get them via methods that are convenient as well as healthy, with few additives. New, innovative businesses continue to find that this old-fashioned comfort food is ripe for reimagining in the modern world — a perfect vehicle for getting plant-based nutrition into hungry mouths. Fast.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor