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What’s next for Campbell’s soup after pandemic sales spike?

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Cans of Campbell's tomato soup for sale at a grocery store.

Soup has buoyed the Campbell's brand this year, but the company expects sales to drop after a spike during the pandemic. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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We’ve been reporting for months about how the pandemic is changing what we buy. One company at the forefront of that shift is Campbell Soup Co. The food giant reported a 17% jump in sales after the pandemic started. And this week, it reported a 12% jump in sales for the most recent quarter.

This is a company that’s been struggling for years. But just because sales spiked during the lockdown, it’s not clear that the company’s fortunes are reversed forever.

Campbell’s has a slew of familiar brands in its portfolio: Kettle potato chips, Goldfish crackers, V-8 vegetable juice. And the company says one of the biggest sellers over the past year has been that quintessential comfort food — plain old soup.

John Stanton, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University, has some Campbell’s tomato soup in his pantry.

“I just can’t make from scratch good tomato soup,” he said, laughing. “So it’s like the only one I buy.”

Stanton used to consult with Campbell’s and said soup is a high-margin product for the company. So the pandemic has spurred a nice revenue bump.

“I think that they should enjoy it, because I don’t think it’s going to last forever,” Stanton said.

Campbell’s said it expects soup sales to decline given how explosive this year’s growth has been. Phil Lempert, a food industry analyst at Supermarket Guru, said canned foods like Campbell’s flew off the shelves because people were hoarding grocery staples and buying whatever was available.

“It was the only thing on the shelf, so people bought it, and people’s cupboards, even to this point, are still stocked,” Lempert said.

But even if soup sales decline, all that hoarding could boost the Campbell’s brand overall. Prasad Vana, assistant professor of business administration at Dartmouth University, said all those soup cans and snacks people crammed into their cupboards “are really big banner ads right inside their homes.”

Soup has buoyed the brand this year, but Campbell’s said it’ll invest more in products we like to eat in good times and bad. That includes cookies, potato chips and packaged broth.

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