Soup Sisters: A “hug in a bowl” for foodservice
Soup Sisters Founder and CEO Sharon Hapton was inspired by just two ingredients: a passion for soup and a desire to fill empty bowls, starting with her own. Over the years, her passion project grew into a thriving social enterprise devoted to feeding people in need.
Now, Soup Sisters has adapted and scaled their model to share their mandate, message and profitability with like-minded Canadian foodservice operators.
Soup Sisters is a grassroots superhero story that spawned a Canadian movement. In 2009, Sharon Hapton was an accomplished Calgary business leader and mother of two who found herself staring down her 50th birthday and an emptying nest. Like so many of us at that point in the journey, she was considering her next chapter. She had always been a soup maker and put her business experience to work, finding both warmth and new purpose in the humility and outsized possibility of soup.
Hapton started Soup Sisters as a series of soup-making events organized by volunteers in cities across Canada. Soup makers would come together and share the experience of cooking together and then delivering the soup to local organizations responsible for feeding people and families in need. The concept and purpose caught on, with Soup Sisters soon adding more cities and events to their schedule as well as three successful cookbooks and a second event category, Broth Brothers, in response to growing interest in soup-making from men. Today, Soup Sisters is no small operation. Prior to the pandemic, they were operating over 40 events in 27 Canadian cities every month, delivering over three million servings of nutritious soup to a broad mix of agencies offering nourishment to people in need. They had thousands of soup makers engaged in their mission through events across Canada.
There are no middlemen, so restaurants and foodservice partners can serve our soup, keep their profit margin…
The Soup Sisters model was to partner with cooking schools across the country to hold their soup-making events. “People paid to volunteer at Soup Sisters events, and that money went back to the culinary partner, ensuring the finest ingredients were used in our soups,” Hapton explains. “That quality is non-negotiable.”
The Soup Sisters model addresses the real-world challenges agencies face in feeding their clients using donated ingredients. “The local cooks and chefs receive donations they sometimes cannot use or store,” explains Hapton. “We have a fully-prepared, zero-waste product and it’s insanely efficient on a large scale. We have a laser focus on giving to people the right way. Soup is a big deal because it both nourishes and starts conversations. It’s a comfort food that delivers the full food experience, the full meal.”
Hapton’s work has had an enormous effect, delivering sustenance and inspiring soup makers across the country at Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers events. The venture has earned recognition and support from dozens of organizations like Chatelaine, CityTV, Women of Influence and the YWCA. Hapton herself received the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II for “bringing honour to Canada through performing exceptional deeds.”
When the pandemic arrived, it shelved many great community endeavours, but Soup Sisters was ready. In March 2020, they launched their Soup Bank, producing their recipes at a food safe, large-scale production facility in Edmonton, Alberta. The recipes were developed with the support of food scientists and certified master chef Michael Allemeier. They are on track in February to deliver 7,500 pounds of soup in five popular varieties to agencies across Canada.
Soup Sisters’ expansion includes a new and exciting opportunity for foodservice to purchase their soup at a special, wholesale price. This is not a request for charity—Hapton is a business-minded person. The goal is to accelerate the growth of the Soup Sisters mandate while extending value to new restaurant partners a fair margin on an excellent and sustainable product. “Serving our soup can help restaurants realize profit three ways,” she says. “First, our soup is flash frozen and delivered nationwide by our in-kind partner, VersaCold Logistics Services. It arrives ready to heat and serve, which reduces restaurant labour and food waste. Second, the Soup Sisters story and service record are established across Canada, so restaurants that serve our soup may share that story benefit from that success. Finally, the soup not only supports people in need, it’s scalable and it’s delicious.”
Selling soup directly to foodservice will allow Soup Sisters to increase the volume of soup they can afford to make and deliver to agencies, feeding more people from coast to coast. Hapton points out that because Soup Sisters soups come straight from production to the business, “There are no middlemen, so restaurants and foodservice partners can serve our soup, keep their profit margin and know that Soup Sisters’ profits are used to produce more soup to give back to the people we serve. That is my mandate. That is what we do. That’s why we’ve developed the scale and capacity to deliver our soup not only to more agencies, but to restaurants, hotels and foodservice across Canada.” “It’s just incredibly efficient,” she says. “All I care about is feeding the people and working with restaurants so we can deliver our nourishing “Hug in a Bowl”, impact food insecurity and thrive together.”
Scan to learn more about how to put Soup Sisters on your menu or become a Soup Sisters culinary partner.
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