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Top Ten Restaurant Soups Today

Number One Is NOT Chicken Noodle

By Cari Martens

The calendar tells us that autumn is here, and the first nip in the air lets us know that soup season is up ahead, just around the bend. We’ll be making more soup at home, and ordering it more often when we dine out.

So, what kinds of soups are restaurants serving most often these days? You may be surprised to learn which varieties populate the Top Ten list, at least according to Mintel Menu Insights, a leading global supplier of consumer, product and media intelligence.

The impact of ethnic cuisines and the growing Hispanic population is in evidence right at the top of the list, with Tortilla Soup being found on the menu most often. Not so many years ago, tortilla soup was probably not even on this list at all. Today it’s Numero Uno.

Tortilla soup’s emergence as a top seller “very likely has more to do with the general population's growing familiarity with Latin flavors,” says Eric Giandelone, director of research for Mintel. “Tortilla soup builds on flavors that consumers have already accepted and embraced and adds a point of interest to a menu section that can often be dominated by more traditional and sometimes boring options,” Giandelone says.

French Onion was one of those soups you almost always found on the menu at a full-service restaurant. It’s still a popular choice, but it’s down a few notches, showing up in the number five spot. (Has French Onion become one of those “boring” soups?)

On the other hand, Lobster Bisque, once found mostly in high-end restaurants, has become more mainstream, and is now the ninth-most menued soup flavor. Giandelone says Lobster Bisque’s recent ubiquity is an example of the “trickle-down effect” of flavors and dishes. He says a flavor or food trend will typically start in fine dining or innovative independent restaurants and then permeate through the rest of foodservice, making its way to quick service and retail at the end. “Lobster bisque appears to be following this same route, where its roots in fine and upscale dining are being interpreted by more casual restaurants. As many restaurants have tried to appeal to consumers ‘trading down,’ offering a soup that is traditionally positioned as gourmet is one strategy they are following,” Giandelone says.

Giandelone says he will be looking this fall to see what will be “the next lobster bisque” to emerge. He’ll be watching for a soup that is currently doing well in fine dining but has the potential to move downmarket. “Providing value will continue to be a top priority for restaurants through the end of the year and there is no better way to communicate value than by offering a dish that consumers usually think of as ‘fancy’ at a price point they can afford,” he says.

Here’s Mintel’s Top Ten list as of Q2 2010

  1. Tortilla
  2. Clam Chowder
  3. Chicken Noodle
  4. Chicken
  5. French Onion
  6. Vegetable
  7. Minestrone
  8. Broccoli Cheese
  9. Lobster Bisque
  10. Baked Potato

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