"I grew up with salt, pepper and ketchup," said Chuck Vila, who heads Campbell's customer insights division, which surveys the marketplace for trends. "These guys are playing around with really interesting spices from around the world."
George Veszpremy, a 32-year-old music director at a radio station in Boston, has fond memories of his mother sending him to school in the morning with a thermos of Campbell's chicken noodle.
"As a kid, you eat it and it's great. It served the purpose at the time," said Veszpremy, noting that the soups were a cheap way for his single mother to give him a quick, comforting meal.
But looking back, he said he realizes that the soup wasn't the best quality — the noodles were soggy and thin, the chicken pieces were minuscule and there were no vegetables. Veszpremy said his tastes have evolved: He sticks to homemade or the soup bar at the supermarket.
THE ELUSIVE MILLENNIALS
To understand what makes Millennials like Veszpremy tick, Campbell executives turned into anthropologists.
The company dispatched executives to London, Nashville, Portland and other designated "hipster hubs" to meet with younger consumers face-to-face. Dozens were recruited to participate in "live-alongs," in which executives ate meals with them in their homes, peeked in their pantries and tagged along on trips to the grocery store.
In other cases, couples were invited out to "eat-alongs" at trendy restaurants to talk about food in a casual atmosphere. They were asked to bring their favorite pantry items for discussion. Participants responded by bringing a mix of spices and sauces typically found at ethnic grocery stores.
A staff of about a dozen Campbell chefs traveled for inspiration as well. In New York City, the group browsed in spice shops, bakeries and ethnic grocery stores. In Boston, they even ducked into an Urban Outfitters clothing store, just to get a better sense of the overall mindset of Millennials.