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How Chicken Soup For the Soul Started Selling Actual Soup The feel-good book publisher's move into food products provides a lesson in how to stay true to your brand even as you expand.

By Kate Taylor

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You've probably read Chicken Soup for the Soul. Today, you can eat it – in salsa form.

Since 1993, Chicken Soup for the Soul has been serving up motivational books that serve as comfort food for readers. Now, the publisher has begun serving comfort food in a much more literal sense.

Chicken Soup for the Soul introduced a line of food products in October 2013 that includes the obligatory soup (yes, they have chicken noodle), as well as pasta sauces, barbecue sauce and trail mix. The comfort food is available across the U.S., in stores including Harris Teeter, A & P and Lowes Foods.

Why would a brand that has over 250 books on topics as far-flung as hockey, breast cancer and country music venture into the food market?

Related: Smile! 5 Books to Celebrate International Day of Happiness.

"Comfort food is really about the things we learned reading thousands and thousands of stories over the years about food," says Chicken Soup for the Soul CEO Bill Rouhana. However, Rouhana didn't always think food was the next step for the company.

When Rouhana assumed leadership at Chicken Soup for the Soul in April of 2008, he set out to survey what else customers wanted from the company. The No. 1 item: food products, with 65 percent of respondents calling for chicken soup for the stomach.

"I was kind of surprised and I wasn't really convinced," says Rouhana. "It felt very literal to me." However, with another survey confirming results, a Chicken Soup for the Soul book titled 'Food and Love' and an unrelated scholarly paper titled 'Chicken soup for the soul: Comfort food fights loneliness,' the evidence overpowered Rouhana's opposition.

The brand's expansion into a new line necessitated an entirely different set of expertise, manufacturers and retailers than the publishing arm of the company. However, comfort food was not actually Chicken Soup for the Soul's first foray outside of the world of books. That would be Chicken Soup for the Soul pet food, which the company has been selling for over 10 years.

At its heart, Rouhana argues, Chicken Soup for the Soul is more than books, but a brand built on finding inspiration and comfort through storytelling. Whether the company is making pet food, comfort food or books for NASCAR lovers, the most important thing is making sure its brand stays strong.

Related: Why You Need to Become a Better Storyteller

Bringing on chef John Doherty, who previously worked at the Waldorf Astoria, and Daymon Worldwide as a retail branding and sourcing partner, Chicken Soup for the Soul set to work imbuing a wide variety of foods with the idea of comfort. So far, Chicken Soup for the Soul offers 38 different products intended to hit the sweet spots of a variety of customers.

"Food plays a key role in family gatherings," says Rouhana."The family is a different thing than it used to be, but there's no doubt that family gathering around meals is good for kids, and good for families. "

In coming years, the company plans to develop up to 400 food products in 20 to 30 categories. Upcoming offerings include beer bread, biscuits, and mac and cheese.

The brand's expansion is not limited to the food space, either. Chicken Soup for the Soul launched its new website last week, with the intention of helping expand beyond the world of print. The company has two apps, MemorWe and Angels Around Us. Also in the works are a daily talk show, a children's television show, a television show for teens and a feature-length film based on the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham and Me.

However, as huge as the brand grows, it remains centered on the million-plus stories submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul. The 21,000 stories Chicken Soup for the Soul has published have inspired readers around the world and made the brand a household name.

"We try and focus in on the connections between the brand and the products, but most of the time our focus is on stories," says Rouhana. "I can't tell you how many letters, emails we get from people… telling us how important these books were for getting through a very difficult part of one's life. There's something to be said for not being alone."

Related: The 3 Best Books For Entrepreneurs to Return To, Again and Again

Kate Taylor


Kate Taylor is a reporter at Business Insider. She was previously a reporter at Entrepreneur. Get in touch with tips and feedback on Twitter at @Kate_H_Taylor. 

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