Souped up to create a stir in the States

Helen Jones on the rise of a gourmet chilled-food firm

Carrot and coriander soup that can be passed off as home-made has become a staple at dinner parties thanks to the New Covent Garden soup company.

But chocolate, Aussie Roo and Nettle may find fewer takers. They are just some of the recipes that the company has collected together for its first cook book to be launched next month. Although it is well known for its eclectic range of fresh soups sold in cartons it is unlikely that some of the more exotic recipes will make it on to the supermarket shelves. William Kendall, the managing director, says: "We are always looking at new recipes and we like to excite our customers by offering unusual things but it is a business so we can't be too crazy. The book lets us show off some of the recipes that we might not actually put on shelf."

The book launch is the latest in a series of moves, which includes advertising and direct marketing, to build the New Covent Garden brand in the face of growing competition from own-label suppliers such as Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury.

Mr Kendall says that while others have jumped on the band wagon ultimately it may not be a bad thing for the company. When it was first set up in 1989 soup was something that indulgent mothers with time on their hands made for their offspring or it came out of a tin, had a slightly metallic taste, a gloopy consistency and a few indefinable bits of vegetable floating on the surface. Mr Kendall says: "When we started, fresh soup in cartons was a totally new concept and one that took some time getting accepted by supermarkets and consumers. For the first few years we were trying to convince the supermarkets to give us any shelf space at all but now it has grown into such a valuable, dynamic sector the supermarkets are making their own and they give more shelf space to our products."

The company is now trying to persuade American supermarkets to do the same. It has already established markets in France, Belgium and even Hong Kong where expatriates are prepared to pay half as much again for the product. As Mr Kendall says: "New Covent Garden Soup has joined the ranks of Marmite and Chelsea buns as one of those essentials that you cannot be without when thousands of miles from home."

America, with its interest in healthy living, "offers bags of potential", says Mr Kendall. "They are into fresh food but the UK is way ahead in terms of chilled products. They don't have anything like our product out there."

The company has set up a small office in the United States and is aiming at supermarket chains and up-market delis in San Francisco and New York state. Most of the recipes are the same as those here although sales of pumpkin soup are higher in the US and some of the products contain less salt to appeal to American health consciousness.

But Mr Kendall admits that exporting to the US is not without its problems: "We are currently flying all the product out there via Virgin, which is very expensive."

The company has suffered financial difficulties in the past and soon after its launch had to refinance. Mr Kendall says: "We were a start-up with private finance and this business is very capital-intensive.

"Our factory took longer to build than anticipated and so we needed to refinance. But our problems are the same as any growing business. We are short of cash and would like some more."

To cut its export costs the company is now in negotiations to begin production in America early next year with a view to expanding sales beyond New York state and the Bay area.

Mr Kendall says: "There is no infrastructure in the US. Their supermarkets are not as advanced as ours; they are about 20 years behind and don't have the same capacity for chilled prepared foods. However, we feel we are ahead of the game and that there is potentially a big market."

California is a long way from the New Covent Garden Soup Company's humble beginnings in an out-building loaned by Reading University but the company is confident that it can create consumer demand. Aussie Roo soup may not be on the menu for most American families but pumpkin soup might be, and the company has a host of products planned including fresh pasta sauces and gravy in cartons, which may change the face of American supermarkets for ever.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing