Weighing In: Campbell Soup and Progresso Food Fight

13th October 2009

Weighing In: Campbell Soup and Progresso Food Fight

I’m introducing a new regular series I’m calling Weighing In in which I review products related to any of the F-words discussed here.  The Federal Trade Commission recently passed a law that would require bloggers to disclose any perks or payments they receive from companies for reviewing their products, so I want to remind readers that I do not accept compensation or freebies for any product I review here.  You can read my non-advertising policy here.

As a food historian, I’m oddly fascinated by the mm-mm militant war raging between General Mills’ Progresso soups and the Campbell’s Soup Company.  The battle is so heated that there’s even a Soup War website where you can lend support to your favorite brand.  The soup war is a longstanding one, but it reached a boiling point last year when Campbell placed an ad in The New York Times showing a can of Progresso with the caption, “Made With MSG” opposite a can of Campbell’s Select Harvest with the headline: “Made With TLC” (tender love and care).  Progresso retaliated by announcing a month later that it had removed MSG from 26 of its soups and then also ran a full page ad in the Times announcing in large red block print: “Campbell’s has 95 soups made with MSG.”  The soup war may be a silly marketing creation, but the stakes are high for both company: Campbells overall sales in 2007 were a staggering $7.9 billion, while General Mills had sales of $13.7 billion in the fiscal year ended May 25 of that year.

The leaves are turning into shocks of crimson, orange and yellow here in my part of Southwestern Ohio and nothing is better when it’s chilly outside than a simmering bowl of vegetable soup.  The best (and cheapest) soup is my own vegetarian vegetable soup, but sometimes there’s no beating the convenience of heat-and-eat, especially when it’s on sale.   So, I decided to conduct my own taste test to find out which processed vegetable soup is best.  The contenders: Campbell’s Select Harvest Light Southwestern-Style Vegetable and Progresso Light Italian-Style Vegetable.  Yes, it is a bit like comparing apples to oranges — Progresso also makes a Southwestern-Style Vegetable and Campbell’s an Italian-Style Vegetable, but both are made with meat-based broths that don’t appeal to this vegetarian.

Campbell's Select Harvest soupCampbell’s: The first thing I noticed about the Campbell’s variety is that the ingredients are extremely easy to read and the text is larger.  Ingredients include carrots, celery, tomato puree, tomato paste, black beans, corn, green and red bell peppers and celery with footnotes explaining what any unfamiliar and chemical-sounding ingredients like cellulose gel and citric acid are and why they’re included.  The label also claims the soup to be 100 percent natural, heart healthy, and a rich source of fiber and vitamin A, all of which also appeals to this health-conscious tree-hugger.  As detailed on Campbell’s website, each can contains two servings of: 50 calories, a half-gram of fat, 480mg sodium, 4g fiber, 4g protein, 20 percent vitamin A, four percent calcium and eight percent iron.

I read a news report sometime last year about the ways in which Big Food is seeking to manage rising food costs without raising prices.  The majority of companies either reduced portion sizes or watered down its products.  Campbell’s certainly seems to have done the latter.  I found its soup to be very diluted and the broth to be bland and virtually flavorless.  What few vegetables I saw floating in the bowl were soft, but not mushy and the colors were still bright.

Progresso soupProgresso: The first thing I noticed about the Progresso soup was the large “Weight Watchers” points endorsement featured prominently below the Progresso label.  In fact, it’s easier to read the WW blitz than it is the ingredients, which include tomatoes, celery, green beans, carrots, tomato paste, peas, penne pasta and spinach, amongst other ingredients and additives.  Each can contains two servings of: 60 calories, zero grams of fat, 820mg sodium, 4g fiber, 2g protein, 25 percent vitamin A, six percent calcium and four percent iron.  Unlike Campbell, nutritional information for Progresso soups is NOT available on its website.

I found the Progresso soup to be very flavorful, much more so than the Campbell’s variety — you can actually see that the broth is peppered with a variety of spices.  I wished that they had omitted the pasta and included more veggies, but I found an abundance of both.

Who wins? I love Campbell’s easy-to-read labeling over Progresso’s squint-worthy text, but I’d definitely buy Progresso on my next grocery shopping trip.  Both soups cost about the same price, but I found the Progresso to be a much better bargain.  Of course, the Progresso does contain nearly double the sodium, which might be of concern to folks watching their sodium intake, but it also contains more calcium and vitamin A than the Campbell’s brand.  Both varieties are extremely limited in their vegetarian offerings, so quality may vary depending on which flavor varieties you compare.

How about you?  Do you like Campbell or Progresso better?  Add your soup reviews in the comments below.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 at 7:00 am and is filed under Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Rachel, Vegetarianism, reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 38 responses to “Weighing In: Campbell Soup and Progresso Food Fight”

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  1. 1 On October 13th, 2009, RB said:

    Progresso does, in fact, publish its nutrition information online. In two places, even. I use this information often.

  2. 2 On October 13th, 2009, Godless Heathen said:

    Fifty calories per serving sounds like an awfully bad bargain. Campbells really doesn’t flavor their soups all that well, I don’t think that they ever have. Unfortunately, I don’t care for either of them all that much, as Progresso either over spices theirs or adds unnecessary noodles. Still, the Progresso clam chowder is ok.

    I’m kind of inspired to make a pot of my own southwest soup now, even though it takes all day to cook.

  3. 3 On October 13th, 2009, Rebecca said:

    I wouldn’t eat canned soup unless God came down from the heavens and commanded it. It’s terrible and the sodium counts are through the roof and may contain suspect things I can’t eat, like soy. Making ones own soup is practically stupid-proof. water + vegetables + hunk of meat or maybe beans + some seasonings/salt = soup.

  4. 4 On October 13th, 2009, meerkat said:

    Not that “natural” means diddly-squat in advertising copy. I tend to stick with fancy schmancy health store brands on the rare occasion I eat canned soup (which is not often enough for me to recall which ones I liked by name). I’m more into these instant Thai noodles for liquidy convenience food (watch out for the one flavor with shrimp in it though).

  5. 5 On October 13th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @RB: Thanks for the links. It’s funny that they have two websites for Progresso but only publish nutritional information on one of those sites.

    @meerkat: I like the Amy’s brand of soups myself. They have many more veggie offerings and the quality is much better. The only time I usually eat commercial soup is when I buy Campbell’s tomato soup sippers for when I want to eat lunch on the go.

  6. 6 On October 13th, 2009, DaniFae said:

    I’m really not a fan of either of the brands, I tried Progresso ages ago, it was disgusting, and I never went back. I grew up on Campbell’s but moved away from it when I got older, mostly because of the MSG. Now, I usually do Amy’s or Pacific Foods brand soups. They’re pricey, but the flavor is so much better.

  7. 7 On October 13th, 2009, buttercup said:

    If I can’t have my own and the choice is only between these two, I’ll get progresso every time. But I’m not a label reader or a calorie counter.

  8. 8 On October 13th, 2009, living400lbs said:

    One of my “keep in the drawer at work” lunches is Progresso soup, a small can of veg-all, and saltines. I drain the veggies and add them to the soup.

    (I also keep a few spices at work too!)

  9. 9 On October 13th, 2009, Rachel_in_WY said:

    I tend to agree with those who avoid canned soup altogether. I think I just don’t like the texture of potatoes and carrots once they’ve been canned. So I make big batches of lentil soup with tons of veggies and freeze single-serving portions to take to work. And if I really need a can of soup it’s Amy’s Tomato Bisque every time. I’ll admit that we do have a few cans of Campbell’s tomato soup around, though, because my kids think you can’t possibly eat a grilled cheese sandwich without it.

  10. 10 On October 13th, 2009, Rachel said:

    Speaking of Amy’s tomato soup… Amy’s is the only brand I have found that makes a great tasting traditional tomato soup without high fructose corn syrup. I had tried a few other HFCS-free hippie-dippy brands from Whole Foods and none tasted as good as the Campbell’s kind that Brandon and I are used to and crave but that has HFCS.

  11. 11 On October 13th, 2009, Meems said:

    I find that most canned soups (even the hippie organic ones) taste a bit off to me and often trigger headaches. I just make soup myself at home.

  12. 12 On October 13th, 2009, Mina said:

    I used to love Campbell’s Creamy Tomato Soup, it even came in one of those handy sippy cup type devices that you heat in the microwave.

    Then I read the ingredients. One of the main ingredients is High Fructose Corn Syrup, which is just baffling to me. Suffice to say I no longer eat Campbell’s Creamy Tomato, and rarely eat or use soup in a recipe unless I have to.

  13. 13 On October 13th, 2009, Rachel said:

    I used to love Campbell’s Mushroom soup in those sipper cups and then they discontinued it. I try to avoid HFCS, but I make an exception for the Campbell’s tomato soup sipper cups since they’re so convenient when on the go.

  14. 14 On October 13th, 2009, Filmi Girl said:

    The one canned soup I can stand is Progresso Lentil – veggie friendly and very filling. :)

  15. 15 On October 13th, 2009, Mulberry said:

    For a quickie meal, I like Progresso’s New England Clam Chowder. I add some frozen veggies to it, such as corn. Yummy!

  16. 16 On October 13th, 2009, Kelly said:

    I am an unequivocal homemade soup-maker. But this is a fun article, thanks for writing it!

  17. 17 On October 13th, 2009, m said:

    all of you who make homemade soup, care to share your recipes? I have made my own soup, but I am never sure which vegetables will taste best in it.

  18. 18 On October 13th, 2009, TropicalChrome said:

    I’m with a lot of the posters who have moved on to homemade soup – I always make at least twice as much as we’re going to eat and freeze the rest.

    But when it comes to convenience, I still like some of Campbell’s Chunky soups. They all taste a little tinny to me, but they’re hearty enough to actually make a meal out of. I also like the cans of Tom Kha Gai I get at the Asian market – I have no idea what brand they are, but they’re usually pretty good.

    And I don’t have to doctor the heck out of them to make it taste good. I have yet to find any “light” or “lite” soup that didn’t taste so watery that I needed to add seasonings and protein and vegetables just to make it taste like something….and at that point, it’s worth making my own.

  19. 19 On October 13th, 2009, Matt Stone said:

    Weight Watchers points! Ha! Is this the part where they tell us the liquid in the soup will fill us up and keep us from overeating? Golly I hope so!

  20. 20 On October 13th, 2009, Laura said:

    Lentil Soup- so easy-
    sautee onions carrots and celery in some olive oil until soft and yummy smelling
    add one can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
    then one can of water using the tomato can
    a cup or so of dry lentils (I am not much of a measurer)
    crushed garlic to taste (I like lots!) and whatever dry seasoning you want (mmmm oregano)
    let simmer until lentils are soft (about 30 minutes)
    then add a couple of table spoons red wine vinegar (makes it taste so rich and wonderful)
    salt & pepper to taste (keeps the sodium from being insane)
    stir in chopped greens (I like chard or kale) at the end so the gently wilt, and fresh herbs if you have em.
    Flavors get better in a day or two. Freezes easily. Tastes like home.

  21. 21 On October 13th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @M: Here’s my awesome veggie vegetarian soup recipe. I generally don’t measure, so you’ll have to guesstimate to taste.

    - One large V-8 sized can or bottle of tomato juice
    - Half a can or bottle of water, less if you want the broth to be thicker
    - Veggies to taste. I use carrots, green beans, peas, corn, sweet potatoes and celery. I also like cabbage and tomatoes in mine, but the hubby hates ‘em.
    - One bag Morningstar Farms veggie sausage crumbles
    - Spices to taste. I use garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano, a couple bay leaves and an Italian seasoning blend.

    I usually combine everything save for the peas, which I add in the last five minutes so they don’t get mushy. It takes about an hour total on the stove or you can set it in a crockpot. One pot usually lasts us at least a week and it’s filling enough to be a meal unto itself.

  22. 22 On October 13th, 2009, JennyRose said:

    I read once that canned must be heated to a very high temperature for food safety reasons. That mans lack of flavor and mushy contents. Pacific foods makes the best tomato bisque I have had outside of a restaurant.

    Canned soups also seem kind of expensive for what you get too. Has anyone noticed that canned soup has become a relatively expensive food item? I need to learn to make homemade.

  23. 23 On October 13th, 2009, m said:

    @Rachel: that sounds great, I wouldn’t have thought to use sweet potatoes.

  24. 24 On October 13th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @m: You can use white potatoes, which is what my mom who originally made the recipe always used, but sweet potatoes pack so much more nutrition and offer the same texture.

  25. 25 On October 13th, 2009, Kelly said:

    @m – My recipe blog has a few awesome foods!

  26. 26 On October 13th, 2009, Kelly said:

    Um, I meant to write “awesome soup”, sorry, my kids were hounding me as I typed.

  27. 27 On October 13th, 2009, gamer said:

    I haven’t really bought either (will be in the future since it’s winter, and greatly appreciate the reviews!), but I found the calorie counts to be a little shocking. Less than 200 for entire cans? Damn.

  28. 28 On October 13th, 2009, rachel with a little "r" said:

    “The soup war is a longstanding one, but it reached a boiling point last year when…”

    Oh, WOW…you are awesome for this pun!…your writing is so smart. :)

    It sounds like Progresso needs to step up their label design; since they have the better product, it would serve them well, because when the consumers are standing there in the store without the benefit of being able to taste the food, they have to “taste” the design.

    @M, I recently made a vegetable soup that turned out well, and wrote a recipe for it on my blog, here’s the permanent link:

    Rachel, yours sounds like a good combination of things, too, I would like to try to make it sometime…except the celery, lol. That’s the thing I’m picky about…

  29. 29 On October 13th, 2009, merri said:

    I am not a soup person…its so runny… when I do eat it I like homemade (which means by someone else, or in a restaurant)… but I do like campbells tomato soup, made with milk. And tons of ritz crackers. Havent had that in a couple of years but used to be a staple when I was a kid. :) maybe I will try the amys one. Hmm with the rainy cold day we have here in SF today I kinda do want some soup…

  30. 30 On October 13th, 2009, Vegas710 said:

    The only canned soup I eat is Campbell’s Tomato Garden Vegetable. I’m not a big fan of soup in general but I do like that one.

  31. 31 On October 13th, 2009, Bethface said:

    I don’t buy canned soup. The sodium levels are outrageous. I make soups in large batches and freeze them. My husband loves my chicken noodle with spinach. So Yummy!!

  32. 32 On October 13th, 2009, i-geek said:

    Progresso over Campbells if I’m eating readily available canned soups (Progresso tomato basil is lovely with grilled cheese), but given a choice I really like the Pacific soups that come in the resealable boxes. The cashew-carrot-ginger one is divine.

    But- homemade soup is really good. Black bean, split pea, and lentil are some of our favorites and all can be made vegetarian/vegan really easily.

  33. 33 On October 14th, 2009, Rachel said:

    Okay, all this talk of soup has me craving my own awesome soup. I picked up all the items at the grocery tonight for it. One thing I forgot to mention in my recipe above is okra. I buy it frozen, presliced, and add it to the mix.

  34. 34 On October 14th, 2009, Lyn said:

    In a pinch, Progresso is better. Amy’s is better still. But it is so ridiculously easy to make vegetable soup at home (broth, tomato sauce, seasonings, and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables) that it is almost easier to do THAT than use a can opener. ANd you get to control the sodium.

  35. 35 On October 15th, 2009, Lenore said:

    I’m not a big soup fan, so I don’t really have an opinion. But any mention of this “soup war” makes me giggle cuz it’s just so ridiculous. It’s like some kind of escalation of the Kingdom of Loathing Cola Wars quest!

  36. 36 On October 21st, 2009, Vicki said:

    I am doing a research project on Progresso soup and think that progresso could use a better marketing strategy. If you have any comments that will help, please reply. Thank you.

    Personally I’ve always been a Campbells gal.

  37. 37 On January 27th, 2010, Lord725 said:

    Although I would prefer to make my own soup, it’s not always on the agenda. While trying to watch calorie intake (but include taste) I would have to say that Progresso is the better soup. There is more flavor for the buck, but it’s also higher on the sodium content. I grew up being a Campbell’s kid & my son is a Campbell’s Chicken Noodle kid (we buy it by the case). But for adult soup, low calorie with flavor – Progresso all the way !!

  38. 38 On January 28th, 2010, Soup Lover said:

    I used to love progresso soups, but have found that the quality is atrociously low. Try the Italian Wedding Soup for yourself to see. Meatballs have no texture, the pasta is mush, starch thicken the soup to the consistency of okra squeezings and the overall appeal is low. Too bad a formerly quick good eat has gone by the wayside.

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