Campbell Soup Co.’s products are so much a part of the American culture that its soup cans have been portrayed in everything from pop art to children’s arts and crafts projects — much of which is displayed throughout the company’s Camden, N.J., offices. But in addition to soup, Campbell has quietly nurtured another iconic brand, and in doing so, has turned beverages into one of the company’s core product categories. With V8 100 percent vegetable juice, Campbell has met the health and wellness trend head on. As the brand celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2008, it is enjoying booming sales and a new distribution agreement that will make it even more accessible to consumers.

According to Irene Chang Britt, general manager sauces/beverages for Campbell USA, V8 was a respectable part of Campbell’s business for its first seventy-plus years on the market, but its sales have exploded during the past two years, thanks to consumers’ interest in health.

“If you could name the first functional beverage, this would be pretty close to it,” she says. One of the few well-known vegetable juices on the market, V8 was developed in 1933 as a blend of tomatoes, carrots, celery, beets, parsley, lettuce, watercress and spinach — the same formula it uses today.

While the brand was a staple for years, it was only recently that the company realized just how valuable it could be in a marketplace where obesity, heart disease and an overall lack of nutrition were hot topics. It expanded the brand to include six tomato-based varieties as well as V8 V-Fusion, a line of 100 percent fruit and vegetable juice blends, and V8 Splash juice drinks. As part of an ongoing effort to reduce sodium in its products, the company dropped the sodium level of the original product by 19 percent last year, in addition to offering a low-sodium variety with even lower levels.

Healthy developments

All innovation with the V8 brand starts with nutrition, which is the brand’s defining characteristic, according to Britt.

“The V8 brand will always be heavily anchored in vegetable nutrition,” she says. “By specializing in that area, what we do then is offer, not only to consumers but to retailers, deep thinking around serious vegetable nutrition.

“As we face the societal forces that we do in terms of obesity and aging, as we get this boom of the boomers coming through, what we can help retailers understand is the growth potential in being able to be very serious about nutrition within the juice category,” she adds. “Juices have always kind of, sort of been good for you, but sometimes it’s been ‘lightly nutritious’ … We can bring some really deep knowledge around what vegetables do for you. That’s why we’ve been one of the very few shelf-stable [juice] companies actually growing the segment at this point.”

For Chor San Khoo, the woman behind that science, the key is not only expanding flavors and varieties, it’s expanding the number of occasions in which people consume vegetables. As vice president global nutrition and health, Khoo is charged with filling what the company refers to as America’s “vegetable gap.”

“We know that about seven out of 10 consumers do not get enough vegetables in their diet,” she says. “Unfortunately, based on our eating behavior, vegetables tend to be consumed in a very small number of meals, either at the main meal for lunch, or at dinner … V8 is unique because it is a very convenient vegetable so that you could actually use it at any occasion.”

V8’s consumers also differ from many juice products in that the core line is more adult than kid-focused. Regular V8 skews to a 40-and-older crowd, the company says, which is why it made sodium reduction a top priority. “Among this group of consumers, they are concerned about weight, about heart disease, and they are also concerned about diabetes,” Khoo says. “We were very adamant in making sure that we made sodium reduction a priority in that product line.”

As savory products, vegetable juices contain sodium for flavor. Last year, the company reduced the sodium count in its original juice to 480 mg. or less as part of an ongoing effort to reduce sodium across its portfolio of products, not just beverages. The new levels qualify the products to meet the government criteria for “healthy” foods and to display the American Heart Association’s Heart Check Mark on packaging.

“This has been a Campbell effort for the last 40 years in terms of looking for sodium-reduction technology,” Khoo says. “One of the philosophies we follow for any sodium reduction is we must make sure the products maintain good taste, because ultimately, if the consumer does not like the taste of the product, regardless of how healthy, they are not going to buy it, we are not going to get repeatability. As a nutritionist, I’m saying we’re not going to get compliance.

“Over the years, we have very carefully, gradually reduced sodium in a subtle way so that consumers did not detect it. More recently, we did advance in our technology. We were able to move faster and that’s why we have products that are 480 mg. and below right now,” she says.

In addition to lower sodium levels, most of the tomato-based V8 products have 60 calories or less per serving, which appeals to consumers’ weight concerns and also makes the product a viable option for between-meal snacking, Khoo says. “V8 is consumed largely at breakfast,” she says. “So we’re trying to encourage people to use V8 in other occasions as a way to fill the vegetable gap.”

Fusing flavors

Another way Campbell has expanded vegetable consumption occasions was the creation of V8 V-Fusion, a blend of fruit and vegetable juices. The company rolled out V-Fusion in 2006 in Strawberry Banana, Tropical Orange and Peach Mango flavors. Last year it added Pomegranate Blueberry, and this spring introduced Acai Mixed Berry. Both the sweeter flavor profile and the on-trend fruit blends were developed to take V8 beyond its 40-something base.

“Not only do we want to have contemporary fruit flavors and exciting fruit flavors, at the same time, we were also looking at the nutrition of these different fruits,” Khoo says.

V-Fusion not only brought fruit flavors to the mix, but the product lifted V8 out of its traditional tomato profile and incorporated a new vegetable blend. In addition to different colored tomatoes, the company turned to sweet potatoes, and it incorporated purple and yellow carrots, depending on the juice variety and its color needs.

“You have to look for vegetables that are nutritious, but at the same time a vegetable subtle enough in taste so that when you combine the fruit blend, the flavor of it comes through,” Khoo says. “So it has been many years of trial and error. “At the same time, we also wanted to make sure in the Fusion line — because tomato is such a polarizing flavor and that’s the main flavor we have in V8 — we wanted to make sure that people who did not like the taste of tomato would get an opportunity to taste a vegetable product,” she adds.

The company drew upon the resources of Campbell’s Agricultural Research Center in Davis, Calif. The center has one of the largest archives of tomato seeds in the world, and has been involved in integrated pest management research to reduce the use of pesticides in the fields. For V-Fusion, the team looked for unique vegetables to incorporate into the new blends. “The research team basically scouts the world looking for all kinds of different vegetables that are grown in the tropics as well as the United States,” Khoo says. “It also looks for fruits as well so we can continue to replenish our line.”

At arm's reach

With the core V8 line attracting the health and wellness crowd, and V8 V-Fusion pulling in younger consumers, Campbell knew it could grow the brand even more if consumers could find the product in more on-the-go, or immediate-consumption locations. It turned to The Coca-Cola Co. and its vast direct-store-delivery network last summer to do that.

“The distribution system that we have is perfectly well designed and suited to distribute to traditional retail, non-DSD outlets,” says Darren Serrao, vice president, beverages. “It is not well designed and not well suited to reach other non-traditional outlets, whether those be vending machines, c-stores, stadiums — all of the other places in which people might want to put their hand on a V8. That’s the power of an organization like The Coca-Cola Co., which is the world’s leader in DSD distribution systems. They’re able to take this business, leverage the consumer demand for this business, and put it within, as Coke would say, ‘arm’s reach of every consumer.’”

The company’s agreement with Coca-Cola went into effect last September, and gives Coca-Cola and its bottlers master distribution rights to single-serve refrigerated V8 products, including the traditional tomato-based line, V-Fusion and V8 Splash juice drinks.

Britt says the move is “both material and psychological.”

“This business was on a double-digit growth path before we signed with Coke, and that’s one of the reasons why the Coke partnership is so wonderful and why they wanted us as well — we’re one of the very few things growing double digit,” she says. “So this wasn’t as if we limped into something with Coke and they said, ‘We’ll help you out,’ and now all of a sudden we’re growing.

“However, it’s huge from a psychological perspective, especially because this is the one strategic breakthrough that we needed in our business model to be able to get the ubiquity of distribution we hadn’t been able to access before. If you really are going to play as a beverage, rather than as a grocery product, you really have to be where beverages are.” Today, single-serve sales are less than 20 percent of V8’s business, but Britt says the expanded distribution has the potential to take it to much higher levels.

An oldie but goodie

In addition to broader distribution, Campbell has sought to go deep as well as wide, that is increase consumption through current outlets as well as new ones. To that end, the company increased the overall amount of V8 advertising during the past two years, including TV, radio, Internet and out-of-home venues. It also brought back the classic “Could’ve had a V8,” with the bop on the head, advertising campaign from the 1970s.

“We see this business as very responsive to advertising, both in terms of the absolute amount of advertising as well as the relevance of the message,” Serrao says.

“We believe that consumers want this solution, but we do have to remind them,” he says. “So that idea of the revival of ‘Could’ve had a V8,’ in a sense, came out of this recognition that everyone is aware of V8, many people want its benefits, and for different people at different times of day, it wasn’t always the first thing that came to mind. The strategy of reminding them, giving them the sort of ‘bop,’ was a device that we leveraged to trigger not only memories of the campaign, but also a literal message to say, ‘Hey, remember. Think about V8 when making those choices.’”

The company also used television advertising to launch V8 V-Fusion, and put significant effort into tying the brand to traditional V8.

“[We] really were focused on bringing V-Fusion into the V8 message … in a sense, communicating V-Fusion as the ying to V8’s yang; different sides of the same coin,” Serrao says. “If V8 is a great way, an easy way, to get your vegetables, then V-Fusion is a vegetable juice without the vegetable taste … they can coexist under the same umbrella positioning.” With all the success V8 has had during the past couple years, it’s tempting to want to expand even further, Serrao says. But he says the brand has done well “by doing what we do best — that is focusing on vegetables and focusing on helping consumers eat better, live better through the nutrition of vegetables.”

“We fill a very specific need,” he adds. “That allows the shelf space that we occupy to be well utilized. Our customers see that space as unduplicated in any other area of the store.”

That said, Campbell is planning to leverage V8’s vegetable reputation by taking the brand name into another area of the store that it knows well — the soup aisle. V8 soups will launch later this year as aseptically packaged vegetable purees. Britt says the soups are a natural extension for the brand, and adds, “It’s so exciting for us as a Campbell brand to be able to bring that to the marketplace, to say, ‘We can take this authentic vegetable nutrition [to other places].’”

While she won’t disclose any additional products on the way, Britt does say the company has a “robust five-year pipeline — not only news on functionality of the current products, but also innovations in both form and functionality as we go forward.”

Both Britt and Serrao say the V8 team is driven by rather lofty goals when it comes to American nutrition. “On average, on any given day, each man, woman and child in the United States under-consumes their recommended amount of vegetables by 1.3 to 1.6 cups a day,” Serrao says. “If you take that out over the course of a year, that’s an enormous number — that’s 285 billion servings of vegetables that go under-consumed in the United States.

“Ultimately, we would like to see that 285 billion servings cut down to zero,” he says. “The answer lies somewhere between the business as it exists today and its ability to meet the needs of those consumers … it’s about being able to look forward and find different expressions of this idea that fit with different consumers’ needs at different times of day over different stages of their life. So it’s about being able to develop, as we go forward, a pipeline of offerings that are able to do that.”

“It’s a neat way to run a business,” Britt adds. “I’ve been at this game for 23 years in the CPG industry, but it is so much more motivational to think about it from a consumer’s perspective … what we’re really trying to do is have the greater good in mind, and that inspires you in so many different ways.”