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 â€” 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 â€” 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.
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.”