#121 There’s a hair in my soup!

In 2007, just before the global financial crisis hit, Campbell Soup Company, the world’s largest producer of ready-made soups, was getting all jazzed up about Russia. Market research had shown that Russians are huge consumers of soup. More than 200 servings of soup per person per year added up to more than 32 billion (yes, billion!) servings of soup consumed annually in Russia. Campbell desperately wanted a piece of that pie – or, more appropriately a spoonful of that huge bowl. The opportunity looked even more appealing when Campbell discovered that almost each one of those billions of bowls of soup was homemade. Therefore, so Campbell, there was no competition to edge out of the market. The CEO of Campbell, Douglas R. Conant even bragged that Campbell was uniquely positioned like no other company because of their “unrivaled understanding of consumers’ soup consumption behavior”. I don’t know about my esteemed colleagues in academia or in practice, but when a product that is very successful in one market, is not available in another market, my gut feeling tells me that there is a reason for it. Usually, that’s a good reason to question one’s assumptions. Instead of questioning their assumptions, Campbell however started to develop new soup products for the Russian market. Under the umbrella of “Campbell’s Domashnaya Klassika”, the company was trying to make products “navaristy” enough, and brought mushroom, chicken, and beef soups to the Russian market. Fast forward to 2011. Russia is no longer that simmering hot market for Campbells, and it’s definitely not (only) the fault of the global financial crisis. Only when things got rocky, Campbell took a really close look not only into tastes, but also into patterns of preparation and consumption. It deployed anthropologists who noticed that only slowly were consumers’ lifestyles getting busier to the point that they started to use ready-made food products; their recommendation was to use soup or broth bases that facilitate cooking, but don’t replace it. Unfortunately, it might have been too late. Russian consumers were already turned off by the idea of consuming ready-made soup, and simply didn’t adopt Western food habits to the extent that Campbell had hoped for. On June 28, 2011, Campbell’s announced that it would abandon the Russian market. 32 billion bowls of soup continue to be homemade…

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