Demand for winter warmers are certainly heating up as the seasonal cold really sets in. It’s something Duncan Wilson saw when he was dropping off food as a Deliveroo rider – a lot of people like to order soup when temperatures drop.
It planted the seed for an environmentally friendly soup service, where food would be delivered via bike, made from ingredients with lower food miles and served up in refillable glass jars.
In October, his venture, dubbed The Soup Pedlars, began by delivering a bundle of three homemade, seasonal soups to people on a Sunday. From February, this expanding to Monday and Tuesday as well.
Wilson tells Food Spark that the soup development has been a rather informal process, launching with four or five flavours last year and seeking feedback and recommendations. There’s a focus on what’s seasonally available – so squash, celeriac and root vegetables in winter months and lighter options from spring.
“I like to use veg that is going to waste, but it’s hard to do in small quantities at the moment, so I’m trying to get veg that is grown in Britain and isn’t having to be flown across the world,” he explains.
“If I can get veg that is ugly, I will, or veg that isn’t wrapped in plastic. It’s more about keeping the food miles down and reducing the waste. The initial idea was to go similar to Rubies in the Rubble and get a load of wonky veg, but the reality of trying to find that if you only have a couple of orders a week isn’t possible. I use next to no plastic and I’m looking for that conscientious consumer.”
The aim is to keep all the soups at least vegetarian, but many of them are vegan as well.
Soup success and stumbles
The surprising thing for Wilson when it came to the soups? That French onion was the most popular option, as well as celeriac and butterbean. Other flavours he has created include a vegan pea, Thai squash and roasted pepper.
But there have been some soups that have been shunned by customers.
“I tried to do a Bloody Mary-themed soup at the start of January as a hangover from 2018, but I got zero orders for that,” he comments. “I also did a chestnut and thyme soup around Christmas time, but that didn’t sell particular well, and I’m not sure if it was the flavours chosen or if no one in London wanted lunch at that time.”
Wilson is determined to push through any soup setback, however, including complaints from some people that they are still hungry after eating the soup. No bread is supplied with the orders.
“Most of the soups are all pureed quite smooth – so I am trying this week to do some chunkier soups with pulses, beans and lentils to make it heartier so I can make it filling. I also want to change to six flavours a week, as opposed to the limited options at the moment with three,” he says.
Also working as an audit accountant at different company sites, Wilson has observed people are keen to grab soup as a quick lunch, but there is also a barrier with the midday meal.
“I think it could do with a shifting focus about why people are eating soup. The perception is that the people who eat soup are small women and people trying to lose weight. But innovation is needed as it’s the only way to do more interesting flavours and to encourage more people to try soup as a healthy lunch alternative as opposed to seeing it as a light lunch,” he says.
For now, Wilson cycles on average 15 to 25 miles to deliver his soups on a Sunday and customers can leave the jars outside to be refilled each week.
He is also holding a supper club of soups at the London Cooking Project in Battersea in February.