Why do we buy soup?

Oyster Bar, Grand Central Station

Yesterday morning I woke up with oyster stew (or pan roast) on my mind. Why? Who knows – but it was snowing, sort of, and the memory of the Oyster Bar’s stew came back. It’s what I always ate as a very young boy on rare trips to New York City with my father: Museum of Natural History, Abercrombie & Fitch’s wonderful store on Madison (?) Avenue, then the Oyster Bar on our way home. So off I went to Fjord Fisheries for oysters and, a quart of milk, cream and a dash of smoked paprika (and a shot of Worcester sauce) later, we dined on great soup, fresh salad and a baguette. Bliss.

Why do I mention this, other than hoping to annoy FWIW’s Walter Noel so early in the morning? Because the Wall Street Journal reports this morning on Campbell Soup’s efforts at neuromarketing and it’s kind of interesting. Turns out, they don’t know why people buy soup and the buyers don’t either. They just do. So Campbell’s wired up (paid, presumably) consumers and follows them around the supermarket, trying to see what sets their brains buzzing.

I sympathize – how do you stir a fifty-year-old memory and set a consumer off on a quest? Campbell’s is redesigning its packaging, but I don’t know how that will work. Apparently, neither does Campbell’s.

The problem: It’s not easy to know what prompts people to buy soup, except for something warm to eat on a frosty day. When asked why they eat more soup or not, people tend to “say they don’t think of it,” says Doug Conant, Campbell’s chief executive.


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20 responses to “Why do we buy soup?

  1. greenmtnpunter

    Old time Vermont Yankee farmers loved oyster stew. They would ship em up here in big wooden barrels packed with ice…..old VT cookbooks include many oyster stew recipes…..even those old landlocked Yankees knew a good thing when they tasted it!

  2. Jane

    I, too, was at Fjord yesterday for Oyster stew. Sorry I missed you.

  3. Jane

    Full disclosure, I bought their version. Didn’t have time to do it myself!

    • christopherfountain

      But how was it? (Making it yourself takes all of 20 minutes, by the way, about the time it takes to reheat store – bought).

  4. Jane

    More admissions — I don’t care for oyster stew. But I feed it to my family. They loved it. I did cook the fish from scratch. Not a totally bad mother.

    • christopherfountain

      Ah, Jane, you probably need a memory of being dressed up in a “go-to-the-city” suit of Brooks Brother’s blue -and-white seersucker, being all of five-years-old, and dining with grown-ups at the Oyster Bar. Then those slippery blobs have just the extra zest to go down readily.

  5. XYount

    First thing we did, my brother, sister and I, was to tear up the stairs of the Museum of Natural History to see the tarantulas. Somehow, they seemed bigger, more wild than the one at the Bruce Museum.

    No oyster soup. Our mom splurged for sundaes at Schrafft’s instead. Pricey next to a cone at Lake’s!

  6. Anthony Fountain

    I remember Dad taking me there when I was kid and him asking the harried counterman what the difference was between two kinds of oysters on the menu. “50 cents,” he replied (it was a long time ago).

    Their oyster pan roast is probably the best buy in any New York City restaurant.

  7. Arouet

    Was at the Oyster bar earlier this month. New England clam chowder best in the world.

  8. Just the Facts!

    I have the same memories of the Oyster Bar in GCT. Once in a while when I take the train into the City, I’ll pull up to the take out bar for a couple of clams or Oysters on the half shell. Great times!

  9. not so anonymous

    Same dad, same Oyster Bar in GCT as finale to treasured Christmas shopping trip…. gold standard for New England Clam Chowder.

  10. FlyAngler

    Did you visitors to The Oyster Bar ever show neophytes the whisper trick in the vaulted area out front? Impressed my boys (14, 12 & 9) a couple of years ago and they are still talking about it. If the jihadis don’t blow up GCT, I am confident they will be showing my future grandkids the same “trick”.

    Soup, great winter sustenance but don’t forget that cold gazpacho, vishy sous (sp?) and mellon-based soups are wonderful in Summer too.

  11. Jane

    Late responding, Chris. But we were of the “matching Florence Eiseman” variety at the ballet. Don’t remember a lot of meals, just lots of tutus.

  12. Arouet

    Ah FlyAngler, speaking of Summer, check out the lobster Caesar.

  13. Anonymous

    OK, FlyAngler, you’re begging, BEGGING the question: what the hell is this “whisper trick” already?

  14. Anonymous

    CF, you listed a few of the ingredients of your stew, but how about sharing your exact recipe with us…Please?

  15. Martha

    Ok, now you have this pregnant one craving oyster stew! My father grew up on the upper west side and I recall so many stories about him having a charge account at Shraft’s and his friend having a charge at FAO Shwartz. They’d buy each other toys and ice cream sodas to double dip!:-) My dad loved that Oyster Bar in GCT too.

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