From the “conversations at a small-town grocery store” file:
While I was checking out, cashier #1 held up a can from my purchase and yelled to cashier #2 who is walking by, putting away stock, “We have chicken gumbo in again!”
“I know,” cashier #2 replied, “We can only get two cases in at a time, and it’s gone just like that.”
Cashier #1 turned to me, “This stuff is just like gold. People call up on the phone just to see if we have chicken gumbo soup in stock.”
I replied that I must have come on the right day, and she agreed I had.
“That’s good stuff,” the gentleman bagging my groceries observed. “You can do so many things with chicken gumbo. That’s the only kind of sloppy joes I like anymore.”
“As it happens, that’s what I had in mind,” I told them.
The cashier and bagger nodded approvingly.
The bagger continued to extol the virtues of chicken gumbo as he carried my groceries out to my vehicle.
This exchange reminded me of a time some years ago when it was rumored that chicken gumbo was being discontinued, and it was difficult, if not impossible to find for a period. I decided to do some research.
A columnist in Grand Forks, ND wrote about a woman who had been at a grocery store standing in line just behind “an older gentleman” who was trying to buy six or eight cans of Campbell’s Chicken Gumbo Soup.
The cashier told him the limit was two cans.
He pleaded for an exception, and the cashier spoke to a manager, who seemed sympathetic but confirmed the hard limit.
The man asked if he could put two cans in his vehicle and come back and buy two more.
The manager said no.
The woman who shared the story said that she then bought two of the extra cans and gave them to the man, who was moved and grateful and offered to pay her for them. That would have violated the store limit, so she declined his money and wished him well.
Gumbo brings out the best in some people.
Although I couldn’t find any definitive information, there are anecdotal reports that suggest chicken gumbo has been difficult to find in some areas.
In some cases, this is attributed to an increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, not just for chicken gumbo, but for other soups, as well.
If it is true that chicken gumbo is a lower volume seller than some of the company’s other varieties, it stands to reason that it would be more susceptible to scarcity in the event of a spike in demand.
Another possible explanation may come from the manufacturer.
On it’s website, the Campbell Soup Company invites customers to “Get cozy with the Big Easy by spooning into Campbell’s® Condensed Chicken Gumbo.”
The company further states that its traditional gumbo “blends rice, chicken meat and farm-grown veggies like celery, okra and peppers in a savory chicken broth that’s loaded with authentic spices.”
I’m not sure where they would grow vegetables if not on a farm, but perhaps I’m being too critical.
The company concludes its itch by noting, “You can trust Campbell’s take on Louisiana comfort food by the spoonful that’s too comforting to resist!”
That may be the key. Many people are drawn to comfort food during these uncertain, stressful times, and chicken gumbo represents (according to some fans) the gold standard of comfort food.
A word of caution, however. Anyone planning to whip up one of their chicken gumbo recipes might want to plan ahead to ensure they have a can (or several) in the pantry when they need it.
Hoarding is not necessary, but planning might be. As the gentleman at the local grocery store observed, you can do so many things with chicken gumbo.
It was a staple for my grandmother, and she passed her wisdom down to my mother, who shared it with me.