Monday, 22 February 2010

Little Known Fact No 1 – Canned Soup

Did you know; that in January 2010 57 million cans of Heinz soup were sold in the UK, a rise of 11 million cans over the same period in 2009?

If soup was used a measure of economic performance, then an increase of 20% year-on-year sales would indicate that the recession is over; but there might be more to these head-line figures than appears at first sight. My mind wanders to pictures of the soup kitchens operating in the Great Depression of the 1930s, doling out hot soup to the unemployed. Perhaps the consumption of more soup is an indication of belt tightening and moving down market in choices of easy meals. I suspect that sales of tinned caviar will not have seen a corresponding increase.

Soup has the reputation of food for the poor (or cheapest starters on the menu) because it is so cheap and easy to produce, consisting mostly of water. It seems odd that such a stream of waste metal and the associated carbon emissions in moving the cans from factory to consumer is tolerated.

People like the convenience of opening a can of soup. Fresh soup takes more effort. Ingredients need to be chopped and then cooked. Powdered soup is another option but it is always second best - to the can. Fresh ingredients have to be bought; cans sit on the shelf awaiting their moment of consumption for months or years. A fresh and easy option would be a small pack of herbs to drop into a pan with chopped seasonal vegetables, but we are not prepared to wait the time.

If we pause and think about it, the can is obsolescent technology from a past era when keeping food fresh was a challenge. The time has come to regard canned food as old technology. There may be certain specific foods that require being canned; or specific arduous conditions such as military operations where the can remains the best option. But even the military would not waste logistic capacity on canned soup.

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