Campbell Shifts Products For China, Russia Markets

Condensed soups seemed foreign to families that often cook homemade meals, causing Campbell’s to focus on broths that give time-pressed families a head start.

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. (AP) -- Campbell Soup Co. found that selling its products to soup lovers in other countries isn't as easy as it seems.

Russia and China, where the company launched sales nearly a year ago, slurp a combined 350 billion servings of soup each year -- but almost all of it is made from scratch at home.

So instead of asking cooks to scrap their homestyle traditions, the company is trying something more modest: broths that give time-pressed families a head start on a homemade meal.

"The idea of getting them to change their habits completely is a bigger challenge than just getting them to try a new product," said Alton Stump, an analyst who follows Campbell for Longbow Research.

The company learned from an early 1990s foray into condensed soup sales in China that flopped, since the product was so, well, foreign. In that effort, Campbell's had the faulty assumption that because Americans like soups like its cream of mushroom, so would Chinese buyers.

Campbell's went into the markets this time only after doing lots of research and carefully tailoring its offerings with the broths.

In Russia, its ads use a figure known as a domovoi, a household guardian spirit, in an attempt to lend some authenticity. In the Moscow area, the company uses its familiar red-and white-color scheme with the Domashnaya Klassika, or Home Classics, line of broths with chunks of chicken, beef and mushrooms.

Campbell entered China's Guangdong province with Swanson-brand broths that have been sold for more than two decades in Hong Kong.

Western companies are staking out the two nations' booming consumer markets. Russia's retail sector has been expanding 25 percent to 30 percent annually for the past five years and is expected to reach $532 billion in 2009, said Ulyana Tipsina, an analyst at Moscow-based Renaissance Capital investment bank. In China, retail sales growth accelerated to a new decade-high level in July, up 23.3 percent over the same month last year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

In both countries, Campbell's is relying on in-store demonstrations, TV commercials and free samples. In Russia, company spokesman Anthony Sanzio said, there have been a million in-store demonstrations.

Stephen Jack, a food writer and marketing consultant based in Taiwan, said increasingly busy Chinese families might be willing to make the switch to store-bought broth.

"In many families, the best you could hope for is an extended family where grandmother cooks and family members eat as they get home, according to their own schedules," he said in an e-mail. "In these circumstances, convenience counts for quite a lot -- even at the expense of quality."

The company says brand awareness is over 60 percent in both markets it has entered.

Now, Campbell's is planning to launch in other markets in the two countries, including Shanghai, where one study found the average person eats 395 servings of soup per year.

That makes the market, like all of China and Russia, enticing for the company. But it's also what sets Campbell's apart from many U.S. companies forging ahead in developing markets.

"Coca-Cola and Pepsi have the opportunity to grow in China. It's a new habit and it's a western thing," said Mitchell Pinheiro, an analyst who covers the food industry for Janney Montgomery Scott. "Soup is not cool or new, nor is it western."

But, he said, the new markets have a big potential reward.

"There are so many people that small percentages are potential large revenue dollars for Campbell's," he said.

Associated Press Writer Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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