Progresso vs. Harry’s New England Clam Chowder Showdown

Soup is perhaps one of my favorite comfort foods. Either by itself as a meal, or part of a 3 or 4 course lunch or dinner, the likes of a good ‘ole bowl of Portuguese Bean Soup, Miso Soup or New England-style Clam Chowder always warms and sooths the soul. And interchangeably depending on mood between those just mentioned, New England Clam Chowder often turns out my number one choice. Love the stuff.

The tomato-based Manhattan style is OK, but nothing can beat the creamy, hearty, rich character of the New England style. That, along with some crispy crackers or toasted baguette and it’s all good.

Here I was impulse-shopping at the Hawaii Kai Costco yesterday, when as usual, some kind of soup lands in my cart. Besides, it was due time I stock back up on my supply of Progresso brand New England Clam Chowder, something I usually have on-hand, which Costco sells an 8-pack of 18.5 oz. cans (148 total ounces) for $10.99. That calculates to $1.37/can. That’s a very good price, especially when compared to individually sold cans in the supermarkets that go for around $2 each.

Seeing this in the dry aisle reminded me of the other brand I just looked at moments earlier in the refrigerated section. Going back there, I see it’s Harry’s brand, which was more than twice the price based on quantity at $10.65 for two 30 oz. tubs.

Of course, when it comes to eating good, I’ll take quality over quantity any day. A virtue I’m assuming is the case with the higher-priced Harry’s label. Since I’m always up for a brand A vs. Brand X taste-off, decided to pit the higher-priced, more obscure Harry’s brand against the well-known and established Progresso; a competitor Campbell’s execs probably wish would just go away.

So, as that whacky host on Iron Chef America always says, “Let the battle begin!”. That guy cracks me up, I swear. lol

Here you see Progresso provides a handy-dandy pull-tab lid, no can opener required…

And gosh darned it, we better have these in our pantry the next time there’s a extended blackout! Always the case, when you need it most, no moah. lol

And here’s a 30 oz. tub of Harry’s Chowder…

If you notice on the label, it says, “Once open, used promptly”. I’m guessing within 2-3 days. So you must commit to 30 oz. of Clam Chowder once you pop the top, which is vacuum-sealed for freshness by a plastic liner under the lid. Not sure if you could freeze the unused portion.

Most of you will probably agree that heating food (especially canned soups) on the stove top tastes much better and has better texture than the lazy way of nuking it, therefore that’s how I heated both brands up. Hot enough to be scalding, which also bought some time to take photographs before partaking in the taste test.

Without further ado, here’s a hot bowl of Progresso New England Clam Chowder…


Progresso New England Clam Chowder, 9 oz. serving

and here’s a hot bowl of Harry’s New England-style Clam Chowder…


Harry’s New England-style Clam Chowder, 9 oz. serving

Now looking at the two, which have both been standing in the bowl less than a minute since being dished, you can see the Progresso looks chunkier due to the large diced potatoes that remained piled on the surface. While the clams and smaller-diced potatoes in Harry’s chowder have, for the most part, sunk below the surface.

Now let’s look at a spoonful of what lies beneath…


Spoonful of Progresso New England Clam Chowder

and here’s a spoonful of Harry’s…


Spoonful of Harry’s New England-style Clam Chowder

Here you can sort of see the Progresso has larger potato chunks, with smaller, sparser pieces of clams in it. While Harry’s has smaller dices of potatoes, yet more clams in it. Much more clams. In fact, while trying both in this side-by-side comparison, I’d say Harry’s is a Clam Chowder that just so happens to have potatoes in it, while Progresso is a Potato Chowder that so happens to have clams in it.

And that abundance of chunky, meaty clams vs. chunky potatoes, along with its thicker, creamier, hint of butter ‘n bacon soup base sets Harry’s several laps ahead of Progresso in the “best store-bought chowdah” race.

On the back of Harry’s packaging, they describe this product like this: “Our New England-style Clam Chowder is loaded with Eastern sea and ocean clams and russet potatoes in a cream-based stock with a hint of butter.”

That description is pretty much what you get. “loaded with clams” being very much true. There indeed also is that hint of butter, yet not so rich that you’d feel sick after eating half a bowl.

Back to the viscosity, here you can see how each one coats the back of a spoon, first looking at Progresso…


Progresso New England Clam Chowder spoon-coating viscosity check


Harry’s New England-style Clam Chowder spoon-coating viscosity check

You can tell just by looking at it that Harry’s has a much thicker viscosity, along with the more abundant pieces of clamd sticking to it. Yum.

Not to knock on Progresso though, as it’ s still respectably delicious and authentic to the dish, and if I didn’t have the more upscaled Harry’s side-by-side to shadow over it, I’d be just as content with that, as I have been for years now. There’s also a few obvious advantages to the Progresso, with one being much more affordable, and two being much easier store due to it not needing refrigeration.

The only thing disappointing about the Progresso now that I have Harry’s to compare it with is its lack of bacon flavor, which is reinforced by it not being listed in the ingredients on the label. Harry’s has that essential ingredient, if for just a hint which it gives Harry’s that much more savory depth.

There’s probably an even better brand out there that I’m not aware of, which you’re more than welcome to comment and bring to our attention. And I know there’s serious chowder enthusiasts out there who’ll scoff at me for giving acclaim to Progresso, or any other store-bought chowdah for that matter. In fact, they have major, highly publicized Chowdah cook-offs up on the east coast that I’ve seen featured on the Food Network. I wonder if I entered one of those competitions with a vat full of Progresso or Harry’s in the pot, if they’d be able to tell. Ya’ think? lol Progresso for sure, but the Harry’s could probably fool many, as it has that real chef-prepared restaurant taste.

One last note, you may have noticed I used Diamond Bakery Soda Crackers to go with these soups instead of the more traditional Oyster Crackers. Sorry, but that’s where I keep the “Hawaiian Connection”, as Diamond Bakery Soda Crackers are my favorite and usual choice to go along with soups.


Diamond Bakery Original Hawaiian Soda Crackers (unsalted tops)

You can get these crackers in a large bulk-size box at Hawaii Costcos and most other grocery stores, but we prefer the one packaged like this in individually wrapped packs of four crackers. We find they’re crispier and stay that way longer. I like the saltine version too, especially with a slice of Lumber Jack, Gouda or Brie Cheese on it.

My other favorite brand is Sky Flakes from the Philippines.

What? Harry’s New England-Style Clam Chowder
From where and how much did it cost? Costco Hawaii Kai. $10.65 for two 30 oz. tubs
Big Shaka to: Choke, big, chunky pieces of clams. Creamy, thick soup base. Hint of butter. Hint of bacon. Chef-made restaurant quality and taste. Ready to serve (no water necessary). Especially ono with Diamond Soda Crackers thanks to abundant clams and thick texture that coats the cracker beautifully.
No shaka to: Relatively expensive. Not enough potatoes (but I’ll take the trade-off for the clams!). Potatoes a little mushy. Requires refrigeration. Being scoffed by Chowder enthusiasts. Being called a “Chowdah Head”. lol
SPAM Musubi rating: 4

What? Progresso New England Clam Chowder
From where and how much did it cost? Costco Hawaii Kai. $10.99 for eight 18.5 oz. cans
Big Shaka to: Plenty big diced pieces of Potato. Potatoes are nice and al dente, not mushy. Smooth, milky-creamy broth. Distinct clam flavor. Acceptably authentic to the dish (*yet see below). Relatively affordable price. Ready to serve (no water necessary). Long shelf life and easy to store (no refrigeration necessary). Easy to open, pull-tab lid.
No shaka to: Not enough clams. Broth a little too thin, which also makes it less ideal to eat off a Soda Cracker. *Lacking hint of bacon flavor in the broth. Being scoffed by Chowder enthusiasts. Being called a “Chowdah Head”.
SPAM Musubi rating: 2

What? Diamond Bakery Soda Crackers
From where and how much did it cost? Long’s Ala Moana on sale at $2.49 for a 13 oz. package, which includes 7 packs of 4 crackers each
Big Shaka to: Crispy & fresh, thanks to being wrapped in individual serving sizes. Neutral, very basic baked cracker flavor that compliments nicely (doesn’t overpower) with soups and sliced cheese toppings. Relatively cheap. Made in Hawaii.
No shaka to: Big box size, which often goes stale before you can finish them. Not (as of yet) being available in “oyster” shape/style. Being called a “cracker”. lol
SPAM Musubi rating: 5


Comments

Progresso vs. Harry’s New England Clam Chowder Showdown — 22 Comments

  1. I love New England Clam Chowder, and I love this comparison! It took me a long time to warm to Progresso after sticking with Campbell’s Chunky for so long. But with the buck-and-change price per can at Costco for Progresso compared to over $3 for Campbell’s at some supermarkets, I got used to it… and got to like it!

    Never tried the Harry’s, and I probably will, just for the experience, after your write-up. But to me, price and storage simplicity are pretty big factors. When I’m in the mood for something hot, hearty, filling and affordable, a can of Progresso New England Clam Chowder is perfect.

    Especially with Diamond soda crackers! Just yesterday I took a special trip out to get some, as my soup just wasn’t complete without them.

    Ever dribble a bit of Sriracha hot sauce on your New England Clam Chowder? Careful… it could be addictive!

  2. Same here – have to put up with the Progresso or Campbell’s Chunky here from the commissary, whichever is on sale. Going check out the prices again.

  3. I think the reason for eating clam chowder is the clams in it not potato chowder like most brands out there. Harry is so far decent chowder. I always found Campbell a little salty not much in clam taste. As for soda crackers been to San Francisco and found out no where able to find soda crackers just saltine type.

  4. Eh, I not one big fan of clam chower but great write up! I love me my Diamond Soda Crackers with some Kraft singles on top…so ono…and bring me back to my childhood.

    The guy you talking about that say “Let the battle begin!” on Iron Chef America is actor/martial artist Mark Dacascos. He Filipino Local Boy, born in Honolulu (no joke!) Here’s his wiki:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Dacascos

    He’s in a bunch of flicks, his most popular, cult hit ‘Only the Strong’…lots of Capoeira influence. I think his parents still live Oahu somewhere part-time, and his Dad get one martial arts studio I think in Cali. Local Boy done good!

  5. From now on it
    Pomai Dude Man,

    You cooking again? From a another blogger that started it. Harry chowder is more clams in it. Not sure of taste but clam juice make it a better chowder.

  6. My favorite clam chowder is my easy homemade one. :) Having said that, there’s nothing that beats the convenience of ready-made.

    I stopped drinking canned clam chowder a long time ago because most of them tasted a little tinny to me and had too high a ration of potatoes to clams (as in the case of Progresso). Also, some didn’t taste like real cream with clam broth and I was convinced it was just some cheapy broth with a bunch of flour thrown in.

    I wish I had read your post before I made my trip to Costco today. Now I’ll have to return to see if I can find the Harry’s brand there.

  7. C, thanks for the info on Mark Dacascos. Seeing just what he does on ICA (backflips and other antics), you can tell he’s highly trained in martial arts; you can especially see the Capoeira style in his movements. He makes references to former chairman Kaga as being his uncle, but apparently that’s just written in the script for the show, and not a real bloodline relationship.

    Menehune, nope, never made clam chowder from scratch before, but I’m willing to give it a shot!

    Kelike, like many west-coast areas, I hear the asian (usually Japanese) supermarkets are your best bet for finding made-in-Hawaii products such as the Diamond Bakery Soda Crackers. There’s a Marukai in Cupertino that you can try checking out. Only thing, you need a membership to shop there.

    Nate, now that you brought that up, I finally changed the UTC to the correct setting, which Hawaii’s time zone is offset -10 hours behind it. So comments are now time-stamped according to HST.

    Nate, I tried Campbell’s Chunky version too, which IIRC, was indeed more salty. Where I’m shopping and what’s on sale is my main factor. Not particularly brand-loyal. They’re all acceptably-good in their own way.

    Ryan, I’ll take you up on that dribble of Sriracha hot sauce. I have a huge bottle that’s been sitting in the fridge and finally I have something new to try it on! Sounds like an odd pairing, though those are often the tastiest (like mom’s mayonnaise on mango)!

    I assume Costco carries the Progresso soups due to better profit margins and/or lower retail price point.

    I bet there’s a lot of local folks who grew up on Diamond Bakery Saloon Pilot and Soda Crackers and insist on it. Da’ best. If you haven’t tried the Sky Flakes brand, you gotta’. Kinda’ like Diamond, but with a slightly buttery, slightly salted kick to it.

  8. I always keep a few cans of Progresso on hand along with habanero tabasco sauce! Not a big fan of Campbell’s cuz like Kelike, I find it too salty and not enough clam taste. I don’t know if San Diego Costcos carry Harry’s but I’ll look for it the next time I go. Great write-up!

  9. pomai…haha i just picked up some clam chowder at the costco here!! had it for dinner with a sandwich i made from a toasted ciabatta roll + costco’s roasted chicken salad. it was delish on a cold night here in the SF bay area. cheers and happy new year!!!!

  10. Well, after reading you recent post I looked at my local Costco for clam chowder….but not Henry’s :( But they did have “Ivar’s” clam chowder. It comes in a box in the refrigerator section but when you open it there are four plastic pouches inside. All you do is squeeze out the contents into a pot on medium heat, add milk and a little butter and you are good to go! And YES there is bacon in it! What I really like is that I can freeze the pouches if I don’t use it right away.
    Here’s a link to Iver’s http://www.ivars.net/ (if you are interested there is an on-line store where you can buy their chowder!)

  11. What a coincidence; I am partaking in Harry’s chowder right now!

    I was skeptical as well when I saw it at Costco, especially because it was my *first time* in that warehouse… but damn, I’m glad I got the buckets. I didn’t even realize it was more expensive, so thank goodness I didn’t see the Progresso!

    I have to say that Harry’s is one of the best clam chowders I’ve had. I hate those huge chunks of potatoes and the joke of itty-bitty clams. Harry’s does it right.

    PS.
    I don’t care for Manhattan style. Bleh.

  12. Pomai,
    If you are planing to make it yourself use clam juice with milk or cream. It make a more richer clam chowder. That what restaurants used in their recipe too.

  13. Hi Pomai,

    I’m originally from Oahu and have been away for a few years. I’ll be back for a week to visit and have been absolutely salivating like a dog reading your website. It’s frankly, da best website ever thought up and so well maintained too!!!

    If you have a few moments, could you suggest to me a few places that you would hit if you were in Hawaii for just a week and missed all of the ono comfort food that it had to offer? I’ve already included Tanioka’s on my list (I’m from the West side, you see), Zippy’s, Shiro’s Saimin and my mom’s cooking. A week’s way too short to eat to my heart’s content (I realize that even more so after perusing your website), but what do you think are the absolute-gotta-eat-at-places in the Aloha State?

    Thanks so much!!! If you’re too busy, I understand. Thanks so much anyways for this wonderous reading/viewing experience.

    Ann

  14. Nate ’88, I’d imagine the Sky Flakes are probably readily available all over the mainland, as I notice the manufacturer in the Philippines has aggressively started marketing the stuff, including repackaging it for export. Before it was popular, you could buy a huge tin for less than $3 here in Hawaii. Now it’s over $5 due to higher demand.

    Hi Ann, I’ll need to get back to you on that on the weekend. I’ve already have an “Oahu eats Tasty Island Visitors Guide” which I have sitting as a draft. I’ll forward you a copy of that via private email soon. Since you mention Tanioka’s, don’t forget to drive west-side to the end of Farrington and check out Poke Stop. Some ono stuffs ovah deah too.

    Shelly, Nate (the Okinawan Pake) recently emailed me a solid-sounding N.E. Clam Chowder recipe that I’m going to follow, which uses the juice from the steamed clams as you pointed out. I need to go check out Y.Hata for really good heavy cream.. da’ kine da’ chefs use.

    Muriel, ha ha! Glad you agree that Harry’s is up there at the top of the store-bought variety. I think it is, FWIW.

    Kammy, I checked out Ivar’s website, which says their clam chowder is in the Puget Sound style. I think we’re going to have to come out with a “Waikiki Style” or “Maui Style” or “Kona Style” Clam Chowder!

    Howzit Raphael, Happy New Year to you and yours as well!

    Nate, got your recipe. Will try making it!

    Carol, if you scroll up to the first comment, you’ll see Ryan (of HT fame!) suggested adding a few drizzles of Sriracha sauce to NE Clam Chowder. So adding hot sauce, whatever brand or intensity of heat it be, sounds like a common trend to kickin’ NE Chowdah up a notch. Habanero though. Whoah! That’s some hot stuff!

  15. Safeway’s chowder that’s in the refrigerated deli section is really good… and really fattening. For canned, I prefer Wolfgang Puck’s canned soups, and he has a NE clam chowder. I stopped eating Progresso’s after eating some sand, and the tinny taste was getting to me.

  16. No more Costco here, so at the commissary it’s $1.99 for Progresso and $2.09 for Campbell’s Chunky. I’ll stick with whatever is cheaper. That Costco price you mentioned is terriffic.

  17. I dunno what’s going on but the Progresso NE Clam Chowder is on sale for $1.20 per can. Plus there’s a coupon for $1 off if you buy five. So it’s $1 per can. Cheap!

  18. Pomai,

    As a person that grew up in New England; lived there 60 years and has consumed many a bowl of clam chowder I have to inform you that you missed one New England Regional chowder. There is Manhattan clam chowder (New York) which is red due to tomatoes and vegetables added the standard New England clam chowder which is white because cream or milk is added and Rhode Island chowder which is clear with only the clam broth and water added. Progresso Soups are owned by General Mills and Campbell’s Soups is a standalone company. I normally have to add diced celery, unsalted butter and extra clams to Progresso Soup for my taste. Rhode Island clam chowder is normally made from chopped quahog clams which are very large hence a lot of clam juice, chopped onions, potatoes and celery plus spices. A very intense clam flavor.

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