Classic comfort foods are getting a new spin with richer ingredients, global flavors, and unique combinations.

As the seasons change, chefs and operators look for ways to differentiate their offerings as a way of enticing customers to return and try something new. Seasonally-based menu items and limited-time offers are an excellent way to build brand awareness and encourage sales.

Here, Rachael Girard, marketing manager for Blount Fine Foods, explains why soup is the hot new thing for spring.

1. Why has there been a increase in consumer demand for soups on menus?

Flavors have changed a lot. When people are talking about soups, they typically think of the classics like chicken noodle. Now, however, we’ve come so far from that. As people travel more and visit other parts of the world, they are more likely to try new things.

In addition, comfort food—and soup is very much a comfort food—has made a comeback. Chefs are responding to that by taking comfort classic dishes and putting their own spin on it. By going one step beyond what customers would expect to find in a list of soup offerings, restaurants can make something boring and staple appeal to diners.

2. How are chefs differentiating their menus with soups?

Soups are an excellent way for people to experiment with new flavors—while they might not be willing to do that with entrees or with desserts, soups are a smaller portion that can set a tone for the whole meal, and people really enjoy doing something a little different with that. In addition, when it is available, customers will substitute soup as a side, because they would rather have something with more nutritional value and flavor than fries or other standard options.

When chefs are willing to go outside the box, then they’ll really see the rewards of customer engagement. Data has shown that consumers will visit and return to a restaurant specifically for its soups. By balancing staple offerings like the chicken noodle or tomato bisque with more creative menu items such as gochujang—a Korean chili paste soup—can drive interest and traffic for a restaurant.

3. What are some of the most popular soups on menus for spring?

Global inspirations are still very prevalent on menus coming out of 2018—not just with soups, but on menus in general. Anything spicy, or even with just a hint of spice, tends to perform well with millennial customers in particular.

Hatch peppers, Tandoori spice and Mexican-style sweet corn are ingredients that are popular with food trucks, and those things are getting added to the bowl.

In addition, more customers are looking for healthful options that incorporate lighter protein options and dairy- or gluten-free ingredients. Blount offers a golden sorghum and vegetable stew, a kale soup with chouriço, and a citrus lentil soup, which really hit the level of comfort food flavors but are unusual in the combination of ingredients.

4. What are some of the misconceptions about soup, or what might surprise operators about offering this product?

People mostly think soup is a starter—and there’s often a misconception that it’s a dish for older people or for diners who don’t want to eat a lot. In reality, a large percentage of consumers across age groups enjoy soups and will look for a variety of soup offerings on menus.

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