I Paid: $2.55 for a 19-ounce can (prices may vary by region)
The current marketing campaign for Campbell’s Select Harvest line shows a blindfolded taste-tester with a preternaturally gifted palate pointing out the MSG and other artificial ingredients in a competitor’s soup. In the same breath, the tester praises Select Harvest for the quality of its chicken—“from the Peterson-Johnson farm, if I’m not mistaken,” or some similar hogwash. Farm-to-table, meet your smug, prime-time, mass-market appropriation.
Still, the claims are clear: The soups contain no MSG and no artificial flavors, and a number of them are marketed as heart healthy, high fiber, full serving of vegetables, etc. It’s canned soup marketing to people who care about what they’re eating. It’s also another example of a big company trying to put ingredients first in an effort to win over increasingly well-informed consumers.
Result? Success. Across the board, Select Harvest soups taste fresher, richer, and “cleaner” than most of the competition, including regular old Campbell’s non-Select soups. The Chicken with Egg Noodle variety is not too salty or greasy, with delicate noodles and chicken that tastes less processed than you might expect. This isn’t chicken that comes in eerily perfect little cubes; it actually looks and tastes like bits of meat. The overall soup is too gently seasoned, but it’s soothing and well-executed for a store-bought soup. The Split Pea with Roasted Ham is even better: rich and smoky; correctly seasoned and balanced. And while the Italian Sausage with Pasta and Pepperoni is a bit weak in terms of its watery tomato-based broth, it offers a pleasantly spicy low-key burn, sharply flavored sausage, and tender yet robust pasta.
By: ConAgra Foods
I Paid: $1.79 per entrée (prices may vary by region)
Banquet’s new Select Recipes entrées occupy strange territory for a heat-n-eat meal. The types of food offered are lowbrow familiar: pot roast, enchilada, beef burrito with cheese sauce. But the “Select” designation suggests classiness.
Shockingly, the meals do have a select-ness about them. The green beans in the Home-Style Pot Roast are snappy and fresh-tasting, and the beef is tender but not falling apart. Carrots and potatoes taste, oddly enough, like carrots and potatoes. The cheese sauce on the Smothered Burrito is rich but not overly salty or heavy; and though the beans come out as a brown paste, they’re a flavorful brown paste. The burrito itself is a mix of bean, beef, and textured soy protein, but you’d never guess that the last of those ingredients is there without reading the package. Both the burrito and the Enchilada Combo Meal are constructed with “authentic hand-rolled tortillas,” and while they won’t exactly whisk you off to Mexico, they’re tender and surprisingly delicate—quite an accomplishment for a frozen entrée.
The only (minor) hitch is that the calorie count varies wildly. The Home-Style Pot Roast clocks in at a meager 180 calories, or about two-thirds of a Snickers bar. The Enchilada Combo Meal is 360 calories; the Smothered Burrito is 530.