New Covent Garden Soup Co has abandoned its plans to roll-out a range of super-premium soups this year.

The Dining Room range, which had been on trial in about 100 Sainsbury's stores since mid-January, was priced £2.99 for a 600g pot and comprised six SKUs including Slow-cooked Pork & Cannellini Beans and Celeriac & Portobello Mushroom. The core range retails between £2 and £2.20.

Test marketing for the new range ended a few weeks ago, with Sainsbury's opting not to stock the soups ahead of its summer range review.

Brand-owner Daniels Group said it was now assessing the longer-term potential for a super-premium sub-sector in fresh soups. It claimed sales were sufficient to warrant development of such an offering, which would add value to the category, but a launch was unlikely this year "due to other major business priorities". Sainsbury's refused to comment.

Sales of New Covent Garden were struggling at the end of last year, down 3.9% in value to £59.5m [Nielsen 52 wk ending 2 October]. But the cold winter and strong promotional activity appeared to boost performance for the brand, which posted 1.6% value growth for the year ended 16 April 2011 [Nielsen].

Industry observers said growth in upmarket own-label soups and competition from more elegantly designed Glorious! and rustic Yorkshire Provender brands could have hampered the launch and were big growth drivers for the total take-home chilled soup category, which saw like-for-like value sales increase 10.1% in the last year [Kantar 52 w/e 17 Apr 11].

The Dining Room's 600g format could have proved too big for some shoppers, said Mintel UK food analyst Alex Beckett. "Glorious!, Yorkshire Provender and Tesco own label recently reacted to this by launching 400g single-serve pots," he added.

New Covent Garden hopes its new Bloody Mary soup, launching in June, (rsp £2-2.20) will attract new customers to the chilled soup category.