Look, it's 2018. We squeeze yogurt from plastic tubes and scoop smoothies out of bowls. (Hell, at Back Channel Brewing, bowls even stand in for pint glasses.)
We're living in a glorious, post-vessel-specific future. Why, then, should soup keep you chained to a table, bound by the silvery shackles of the spoon?
Nancy Fink wants to set you free. She's the founder and CEO of Spoon Optional, a line of bottled, grab-and-go soups you can stash in the fridge and snag for the road, without ever turning the stove on.
A stay-at-home mom, Fink's always looking for food that's convenient to eat while shuffling a trio of tots around. It's not easy—especially if you crave something that's both hand-held and healthy—which is why she was such a fan of cold-pressed juices when they became a constant in the Midwest.
"But what I didn't love about them is that oftentimes there's lots of sugar, and you weren't using the whole vegetable," Fink says. "I felt they didn't always leave me full—I was still hungry."
Soup, on the other hand? That's a similarly slurp-able but slightly more complete meal, handily packing in tons of veggies and vitamins. And it's really only a step removed from pressed juices, with their cucumbers and kale and beets.
So in April of 2016, Fink formulated a plan. She always loved cooking—"Anyone who knows me knows that my kitchen is my happy place"—and some of her earliest memories are of preparing food with her mom and grandmother. While she never had an interest in becoming a professional chef, she did have serious chops... and a business background, with a masters in HR.
She started toying around with recipes that might make for portable, chilled soups that spring, ultimately launching Spoon Optional in October.
Right now, there are four Spoon Optional flavors: Garden Tomato Basil, Carrot Ginger Turmeric, Savory Super Greens, and Beet Cucumber Gazpacho. All are vegan, organic, and gluten free. The ingredients are good for you—nothing but veggies, oils, herbs, and spices. There's no added sugar or preservatives, and each vibrant, one-bottle, 12-ounce serving has between 60 calories (Savory Super Greens) and 130 calories (Beet Cucumber Gazpacho).
At first, the soups were stored in 16-ounce mason jars. The response was good, but their shelf life was short—Fink made each batch fresh, and she needed something more scalable and shelf-stable. So last August, she took a pause, finding a new manufacturing environment and methods that would work long-term, and updating her packaging for something more like a smoothie.
Spoon Optional relaunched at the end of May and is now on shelves at Kowalski's, Jerry's, and most of the co-ops around town. Fink's in talks with Whole Foods and Lunds & Byerlys as well.
The chef-slash-CEO acknowledges that this is a new category for portable snacking—when people think drinks, they think sweet, not savory. There are a handful of other bottled soup companies, but not many. It's why she's often demo-ing at stores around town, easing shoppers into the idea of a drink with oregano and onion. There's an herbaceous hurdle to clear—but Fink thinks she can do it.
"It's so important to me to eat healthy, and I think that getting veggies in—it's such a foundation of everyone's diet. We could all get more," she says. "I think there's a huge opportunity there, and we're excited to be at the front of it."
Plus, you can always throw one in a bowl if you want to. Their convenience is key, but if Fink's at home she'll often heat a bottle, adding hemp hearts or toasted pumpkin seeds or almonds to get some protein in the mix.
It's Spoon Optional, after all, not Spoon Prohibited.