Soup of the day

Soup of the day Soji Numano President Campbell Japan Inc Photo by Yui Takeguchi

TOKYO —

As soon as you walk into the offices of Campbell Japan Inc, you face an array of colorful soup cans, packets of Pepperidge Farm cookies, Tim Tams and V8 vegetable juice. But soup is what the company is famous for worldwide.

Excluding miso soup, Japan’s soup market is worth about $700 million annually, of which canned soup accounts for only 5% of the total. Of the canned soup segment, Campbell’s has the lion’s share at about 80% with corn potage its biggest seller.

Overseeing the Japan operations is Soji Numano. Fluent in English, Numano has been with Campbell’s since 1988, heading the Tokyo office since 2000. Before joining Campbell’s, he worked in the marketing department of rival Heinz for 13 years.

Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Numano at the Campbell office in Hiroo to hear more about the business.

What product lines does Campbell Japan import?

Canned soup, and Pepperidge Farm cookies and Arnott’s Tim Tams. We used to sell V8 vegetable juice for 20 years through a relationship with Suntory, but we terminated that contract two years ago. We still sell some V8 but only to Costco and some upscale stores.

How are overall sales?

Sales have grown steadily every year for the past decade. We got a significant boost in 2005 when we started selling to Costco, and in 2008, when we commenced direct business with Seiyu Walmart. Another reason we are doing well is that in a recession, people tend to think of soup as a convenient meal in itself. A can of soup is healthy and offers value for money.

How big is the soup market in Japan?

Excluding miso soup, the market is worth $700 million a year in Japan. The bulk of that is dry soups and is dominated by Japanese companies like Ajinomoto. Canned soups account for only 5%, of which we have the major share.

Are the soup products sold in Japan the same as in the U.S.?

Cans with English labels are the standard U.S. Product. Cans with Japanese labels have a formula developed especially for Japanese consumers after a lot of research. They tend to be less thick and not as salty. Sales of Japanese labels are increasing.

What is the best-selling flavor in Japan?

Corn potage has always been No. 1 here for all brands. That’s one flavor you don’t see in the U.S.

Are there any sectors where it is hard to get into?

It’s almost impossible to get into convenience stores because they have shown no interest in canned soups. They don’t carry many canned goods anyway. They prefer cup soups or powdered soups. Our challenge is to expand to regular supermarket chains. 

Are there any differences in soup culture?

Some. For example, Japanese housewives don’t use soup for cooking. What soup a housewife serves at dinner will depend on her main meal. If it’s Japanese, she’ll probably make miso soup. One of our strategies now is to promote recipe ideas to consumers. Some magazines have already featured our recipes and soups.

Do you interact with consumers at supermarkets?

We often do demos in supermarkets. It is a powerful marketing method. Many people have never tasted Campbell’s soup and when they do try it, they like it.

How come you don’t sell cold soups in summer?

We discontinued cold soups a while ago because our distributor has their own brand of cold soup. But we do supply vichysoisse to Costco.

Do you have nationwide distribution?

Yes, even in Okinawa. What’s interesting about Okinawa is that it has a population of 1.3 million people, and we sell as much soup there as in the Japan mainland. Per capita consumption in Okinawa is just about the same as in the U.S.

Is quality control an issue in Japan?

Definitely. Things like torn labels and dented cans might not bother U.S. consumers, but in Japan, they have to be sent back. Often, replacing a can is not enough in Japan. People expect a written apology listing the reasons, cause, and so on. Other times, consumers will complain if they don’t like the taste or the color doesn’t appear right or the soup’s viscosity is not consistent. I have to communicate these points to the manufacturing plant in California. Fortunately, though, we have never had to recall any soup products in the past 10 years.

Tell us about your team.

We have 16 staff. We focus on importing, selling to the distributor, marketing and customer service activities.

How often do you drink soup?

About twice a week. I myself like clam chowder, which is the second most popular flavor in Japan.

For more information, visit www.campbellsoup.co.jp

  • 0

    sillygirl

    why can`t i find this stuff in my city?

  • 0

    goddog

    The kinds of soup they sell here are very very limited. Wish they would sell a thick New England Clam Chowder.

  • 0

    Gurukun

    Corn potage has always been No. 1 here for all brands

    What's with corn and Japan. Japanese put corn in everything from pizza to....anything.

  • 0

    Zenny11

    @Goddog.

    Tried shops like Kaldi Coffe-Farm, Carnival(htye always have Minestrone & chicken noodle) and some of the higher end stores that stock overseas goods.

    I got some nice cans of Clans of Clam-chodwer yesterday(168yen/can) that will be turned into supper. Also had "Hormel Chilli: Pork and Beans" over the weekend.

    Some overseas foods disappeared over the years but new stuff was added. Much overseas foods that used to be only available at the "World Import Food Shop" has spread to local supers.

    HTH.

  • 0

    Maria

    How about Minestone [sic]? Chicken Noodle? Manhattan Style Clam Chowder?

    I've seen all of these easily available on shelves in Japan. Do you only shop at convenience stores and your local corner shop?

    I'm a fan of the potato soup they make, and the cheese soup entertains me. Both less readily available but can be found.

  • 0

    dammit

    Almost all the 'western' style soups in Japan are corn based. Corn this, corn that, corn the other. I hate corn soups, they're just so grotty and unpleasant. (Although I like corn as a vegetable very much.) Why don't they make some more interesting flavours? French onion soup isn't much of a substitute either.

  • 0

    Zenny11

    Myself not fond of corn-soup(potato soup is ok), but there are many good clear soups available here too. Also many cream soups like Mushroom cream, etc go down well in winter.

    French Onion soup I use to make a Bread-sausage soup from back home.

    Campbell soups are widespread but prices vary a lot, get them at the right shop when they are on sale and you can safe close to 100Yen/Can.

    Wish we could get more chinese style soups here like "Hot Soup", etc.

  • 0

    whiskeysour

    Go to Costco, they sell a 2 liter of calm chowder ( goddog )

  • 0

    mrskit

    cambells used to make a really nice 'game stew' in a can back in the late 80's early 90's,,,,it was really really yummy, then they stopped making it,,,maybe they ran out of game meat,,,i dont know,,,but it was the best stew ever their tomato soup is a second best

  • 0

    lostrune2

    No soup for you!!!

  • 0

    Sarge

    I wish I could get low-salt V-8 and Healthy Choice ( low fat/salt ) Campbell's Cream of Chicken & Cream of Mushroom soups here. Their standard tomato soup has been lower-salt for about a year now. Tastes the same as before I think. Mmm, mmm, good!

  • 0

    limboinjapan

    "Cans with Japanese labels have a formula developed especially for Japanese consumers after a lot of research. They tend to be less thick and not as salty."

    Ah yes and more MSG even though Campbell's tends to put MSG in their NA soups they put in in every soup here.

    I did notice they have added Onion soup to the Japanese collection but where I come from most people wouldn't be caught dead eating it, Make my own doesn't take that long but again finding broth or bouillon without MSG is not an easy task in Japan but its out there! make it in large batches and freeze it.

    Now the one soup Campbell does make that is great it their Tomato soup, get a friend to pick it up at Costco 12 imported cans for under ¥700 can't beat that and no MSG!

  • 0

    smartacus

    It's interesting about the torn labels or dents in the can. My girlfriend won't touch a can like that, even though she knows that there is nothing wrong with the product inside the can. As for me, I always hope the dented cans will be sold for a discount.

    Mr Numano, how about some cream of carrot soup?

  • 0

    Tokyoapple

    Especially with the exchange rate now, why are the soups so expensive in J-stores?

  • 0

    namabiru4me

    I remember my tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches when I was a kid. Mmmm!!!

  • 0

    taj

    Limbo, you have something against msg?

    When I was a kid, mom used campbells soups in meat dishes at least twice a week. They really did a great job of marketing through recipes.

  • 0

    Zenny11

    Tokyoapple.

    The prices I found vary greatly between shops, etc. Seen prices from 140~240+yen/can.

    Myself not close to a Costco(no car, etc) so that option is out for many of us. Would need to ask a friend to take us on one of his shopping trips.

    Sort of happy with the soup and other import food selection that is available. Granted 10+yrs ago there was more food from my country but nothing I can't cook at home. ;)

    Campbell soups are great for meals when time is short and you use them as a base/ingredient, etc.

  • 0

    namabiru4me

    I remember a microwavable containers of soup...why dont they sell those at the conbini??

  • 0

    zenobia

    namabiru4me: I remember a microwavable containers of soup...why dont they sell those at the conbini??

    It's possible Natural Lawson still makes them, I haven't checked lately.

  • 0

    OssanAmerica

    " I myself like clam chowder, which is the second most popular flavor in Japan."

    New England or Manhattan?

  • 0

    mrskit

    Yamaya sells many good campbell soups, was checking them out yesterday,,,many yummy varieties,,,,

  • 0

    BurakuminDes

    I like Campbell's soup. The fat-free/vegetarian options are great for losing weight too!

  • 0

    Smythe

    Have eaten Campbells soup since back in the mid 30s to also a change of their being "Chunky" soup. Being a bachelor I cut either in half for me only, but usually okay for a couple.

    One downfall is I feel(?) there is a bit to much salt.

  • 0

    the_sheriff

    There's a chain of soup stores in the greater Tokyo area called Chowder's that I really fancy. They specialize in thicker soups (hence the name) and they even have an online shop (google "e-chowders"). I haven't tried the soups through the online shop but the soups in the shop are always very tasty.

  • 0

    Zenny11

    I love a nice hot cup of soup in winter. Way better than most other hot drinks to warm you up.

    I use the campbell soups as the source to make soups more local to where I was born.

    Got a LOT of soup recipes, many also use left-overs like pan-cakes(not hot-cakes).

  • 0

    Gurukun

    Corn potage has always been No. 1 here for all brands. That’s one flavor you don’t see in the U.S.

    Doesn't suprise me. Japan puts corn in everything!

  • 0

    Nessie

    \This was very interesting. I'd like to see more articles like this.

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