Sonoma Brands unveils drinkable veggie soup ZÜPA NOMA: ‘Cold pressed juices taste great, but they simply have too much sugar’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

One bottle of ZÜPA NOMA has four servings of vegetables and 70-90 calories
One bottle of ZÜPA NOMA has four servings of vegetables and 70-90 calories
The $8bn US wet soup category is “sleepy and ripe for disruption,” says the founder of Sonoma Brands, which is launching its first incubated brand in July: ZÜPA NOMA, an organic ready-to-drink chilled vegetable soup in a bottle debuting July 1 in around 1,000 stores on the west coast.

Gazpacho (cold soup) – a dietary staple in many parts of Europe but a relatively new concept to many Americans – is lower in sugar and higher in fiber than cold pressed juice, making it a better option for a snack or meal replacement, according to Sonoma Brands founder Jon Sebastiani, who struck CPG gold with KRAVE Jerky (which he sold to Hershey in 2015​) and is confident ZÜPA NOMA could prove equally disruptive.

People have been blown away by the taste

“We see this tremendous opportunity as all the research continues to show that we are not getting enough vegetables, in part because ​[unless they are prepared creatively], they don’t always taste great,” ​said Sebastiani, who shook up the jerky category with culinary-inspired, gourmet flavors​ and has taken a similar approach with ZÜPA NOMA (flavors include organic beet orange basil, organic carrot coconut lime, and organic cucumber avocado fennel).

He told FoodNavigator-USA. “Our products ​[which are treated with high pressure processing (HPP) with an MSRP of $6.00-$6.99 for a 12oz bottle] taste incredible, delicious and fresh, and people have just been blown away.

“Cold pressed juices also taste great, but they simply have too much sugar. Our bodies are not necessarily prepared to have several pounds of fruits compressed into one beverage; some of these products have 40-50g of sugar and that’s just not appropriate. They also press out all the seeds and skins, which is where a lot of the nutrients are, and most of the fiber, whereas our products keep all of this stuff in.”

ZÜPA NOMA will debut in around 1,000 stores on the west coast starting July 1, including Sprouts, Bristol Farms, Gelson’s, Lunardi’s, Draeger’s, PPC Natural Markets, New Seasons Market and many more independent retailers. 

Every retailer is now over-indexed on cold-pressed juices

Retailers, meanwhile, are over-indexed when it comes to cold-pressed juices, which have been driving the growth in the broader juice market over the past few years, but are starting to mature, he claimed.

“If we prove out the ​[drinkable soup] concept, then retailers will probably take out some juice space as every retailer is now over-indexed on cold-pressed juices. I believe that souping is the new juicing and we’re going to tell a health and wellness story that’s very real.”

Jon-Sebastiani new

At the end of May we had a tent at the Napa Valley BottleRock ​[music festival] - which is like a minor version of Coachella with more than 130,000 people at this three-day music and food extravaganza - and we were able to put ZÜPA NOMA in front of 30-40,000 people and ask a series of very concentrated questions.  The results were astounding. People were just blown away by the taste.”

Jon Sebastiani, founder, Sonoma Brands

There are a lot of similarities with the jerky category: I can just see so much white space

He added: “One of the first things we saw about soup was that it was a big sleepy and tired $8bn category and while there are signs of innovation I don’t believe anyone has emerged as a true innovator to disrupt that.

“There are a lot of similarities with the jerky category – in soup you’ve got two companies, Campbell’s and Progresso with 80% of the category… we are offering a better option and we want to reposition soup into a daily meal replacement snack food bringing health and wellness into the beverage category in a new way.”

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Brand ambassadors for ZÜPA NOMA include chef and author Ayesha Curry, and professional triathlete and Ironman champion, Meredith Kessler, who will be encouraging consumers to "drink your veggies!"

Product will be tested in multiple locations in store

As for merchandising, it’s too early to say which position in store is the best, said Sebastiani, who has secured placements with retail partners in the produce section, the chilled grab & go beverage set and in standalone refrigerators in the deli section for the trial.

“We’re a very data-centric country and we’ll study the math and see what works best.”

As for expansion plans, he said: “We have our own sales teams in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles so right now we are very focused on the west coast to prove out the concept, but upon the proof of that we intend to scale nationally and very quickly.”

If this takes off we intend to scale nationally, and quickly

Asked about operational costs, given the expense of high pressure processing, he said: “With scale will come efficiencies. Right now we are utilizing a co-packer network but as the business grows and expands we will certainly investigate our own facilities if this proves worthwhile.  But if this takes off we have the ability to scale very quickly.

“I’m very confident in my team’s skills to position this brand very effectively.”

Asked what could be gleaned about the potential of the drinkable soup category from the progress of brands such as Tio Gazpacho​ and Mucho Gazpacho​,​ he said:  “I’ve been working on this concept for nine or 10 months and it catalyzed in Europe for me where you see this tremendous array of products in conventional grocery and convenience.

“I am a believer in Tio Gazpacho and the other new brands in this space – a rising tide lifts all boats – I can just see so much white space.”

Austin Allan Tio gazpacho

Tio Gazpacho​ - which launched in Miami in September 2014 in juice bars and independent retailers – has since picked up business in the North East with larger retailers such as Whole Foods, Kings, Balducci’s, Fairway Whole Foods, Fresh Direct, and Shop-Rite.

Founder Austin Allan (pictured left) is also developing a lower-priced line targeting conventional retail and foodservice channels in order to reach a broader audience.

The new line – launching later this year - will still use “high quality, organic ingredients and high pressure processing​”, but will likely come in a 10oz (rather than a 12oz) bottle, and use more affordable core ingredients as a base in order to achieve a $4.99 price point (the 12oz range retails at around $7.99).

Asked about ZÜPA NOMA, he said: "As the pioneer in the drinkable soup space we are excited that other brands are launching products in this space.  It confirms what we have known all along, that customers are looking for savory alternatives to sweet and sugary smoothies and juices."

Are Americans interested in drinking cold soup?

But will Americans warm to cold soup?

It's still probably too early to say, although the fact that General Mills recently invested in Tio Gazpacho via CircleUp (click HERE​) suggests that at least one major CPG company reckons that drinkable soup has potential.

Virginia Lee, ‎senior beverages analyst at Euromonitor International, said bone broth and drinkable soups such as Tio Gazpacho had received a lot of media attention in the past year as Americans looked for healthy beverages with a lower sugar content. "Consumers are also more open to savory flavors as we see more green juices and vegetable-based juices," ​she added.

"I think that this could be the year of drinkable soups. Beyond Tio Gazpacho and bone broth, I've seen a miso soup company get an award at this year's SCAA coffee show. It's a miso soup designed to be served as a beverage in coffee shops. I also saw PepsiCo sample Spain's Alvalle gazpacho (number one in Spain per company) at the Louis Vuitton America's Cup event in Chicago a few weeks ago.

"If PepsiCo can do for Alvalle gazpacho​ in the US what it did for hummus with Sabra hummus, they could have a winner with light, refreshing flavors in a vegetable-packed product with low sugar.​"

Jon Sebastiani will be speaking on day one of Food Vision USA​ in Chicago on November 9. Find our more HERE​.

Food Vision USA 2016 graphic

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