Delicious dollops and drizzles, spicy toppings, savory stir-ins…at the Summer Fancy Food Show, which took place at the Javits Convention Center in New York City from June 23 to 25, brands were on hand to showcase their sauces and condiments—and WholeFoods was there to learn about the latest and sample the goodness. In addition to familiar favorites, there was loads of innovation on display, like the Thai Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce from Wildly Delicious, the Smoked Maple Sriracha from The Spicy Shark, and the Tequila Lime Pepper Glaze from Captain Rodney’s, to name just a few.
The demand for fun-and-fresh flavors is high: According to the Comax Trend Flavor Predictions 2018 report, consumers are looking for interesting, trendy and fringe flavors—mashups and hybrid flavors that add an element of surprise have gone from something to enjoy every-so-often to something people seek out on the regular. And of course, consumers increasingly want those flavors to come free of artificial ingredients (2).
“Customers are looking for a flavor experience with clean label products,” said Chelsea Lindbeck, director of product development at BetterBody Foods & Nutrition, Lindon, Utah. “Convenience is key these days, and customers are looking for differentiated and interesting flavors to quickly dress up their favorite foods. Innovative condiments, dressings and sauces are an easy way for customers to spice up a meal and make it their own. The industry is seeing lots of ethnically diverse flavors as well as interesting ‘superfood’ ingredients like mushrooms and pomegranate to add a nutritional and flavor boost.” Here, we take a look at the top trends.
1) A shift toward clean and healthy
At 14 Carrot Whole Foods, a retailer based in Lexington, SC, employees are making space on their shelves for the splash of organic and clean label sauces and dips. “The Keto, Paleo, and Whole 30-friendly products are the most popular items we sell,” said Cayle Chettinger, grocery department manager. “We have the casual followers and the hard-core alike asking us to find them more products to keep their menus varied and tasty.” Flavors are subjective, he says—but clean ingredients are key. Indeed, once consumers purchase their first organic product, they’re not likely to stop, making this a great opportunity to gain loyal shoppers (3).
“Clean label remains a dominant trend in the market and there is an ongoing drive to reformulate sauce and condiment products with lower levels of salt, sugar and additives to ensure they are healthier without sacrificing flavor,” says Tammi Higgins, global business unit head, colorants and real food ingredients at Lycored. At the same time, she adds, manufacturers are launching no-added-salt or sugar variants to their portfolio, which creates a challenge in maintaining the taste and organoleptic properties expected of the brand. To reduce salt and sugar levels, Lycored offers SANTE, an all-natural tomato-based alternative to sodium that Higgins says delivers a rich umami and kokumi effect to assist processors in developing sauce and condiment recipes with significantly reduced levels of salt and/or sugar, above 40% in many cases.
It’s not just about leaving the bad stuff out—consumers also want to make sure they’re adding plenty of good in. “Nutritional yeast is hitting the market because it offers a tasty cheesy, salty flavor while full of B vitamins, including B12 without the salt, cheese, gluten, fat, hormones, etc,” says Gwendolen Bokine, CEO of Gwennie on the GO and Herbs n Spices on the GO, based in Montauk, NY. “I think smoked paprika is another satisfying seasoning that mimics salt and adds rich flavor.” Another boon: Herbs and spices can increase the antioxidant load in a meal by 50%, says Bokine. Combinations of coriander and cumin; basil and oregano; bohenkraut, dill and sage make it easy to up the flavor while adding in benefits.
“The consumer wants to be able to toss a product into their salad or add it to a meal without restrictions and with the better-for-you benefit,” agrees Debbie Shandel, chief growth officer of Carrington Farms, based in Closter, NJ, which offers Organic Hemp, Pumpkin Seed, Argan, Coconut, and MCT oils. “This is where we see growth in natural specialty oils that serve various functions and we have seen success in our oils for just that reason.” The key to reaching consumers, Shandel says, is promoting oils that provide them with benefits that seamlessly fit into their daily dietary routine—along with offering a product from a brand they know they can trust.
Instead of using a typical hot sauce, why not use one with added benefits? There are plenty of options—like Silly Chilly Hot Sauce, which comes in fresh mango & sweet pepper, serrano & chipotle, and habanero flavors. The company notes that hot sauce has been linked to improved weight loss and detox, plus benefits like clear sinuses.
Another product offering appealing to more consumers these days is ghee. LA-based ghee maker 4th and Heart says ghee is more versatile butter—and it delivers on the clean and creative demands from consumers. 4th and Heart is made with milk from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows in New Zealand, and comes in fresh varieties like turmeric and vanilla bean flavors. It also hits on another top consumer interest: GI health. Packed with butyric acid and CLA, the company says it can help improve gut health.
2) A focus on ethnic flavors
“Consumers are very interested in replicating global diverse dishes that they may have had in local ethnic restaurants or in their travels,” says Shannon Ousley, food & flavorings brand marketing representative at Frontier Co-op, based in Norway, IA. She says the company’s most popular product—Southwest Taco and Mild Taco Simmer Sauces—can be used traditionally or with vegetarian options.
The staple-swap out, as Nielsen calls the consumer shift away from the classics like ketchup and to more adventurous offerings, is affecting sales in a positive way. Condiments that cater to Asian and Latino flavor profiles saw notable growth during the 4th of July holiday week last year, with Asian condiments netting sales growth of 18% and Latino condiments seeing 8.2% growth (4). “There is also a trend towards creating culinary combinations and putting a twist on traditional sauces by adding elements of spices and herbs from other international cuisines to give an extra touch of flavor,” says Higgins.
Also pointing to the popularity of Asian flavors, Alison Cox, VP sales & marketing at Edward & Sons Trading Co., Inc., Carpinteria, CA, says Gluten Free Organic Hoisin & Teriyaki sauce and Organic Vegan Worcestershire are the company’s top-sellers. These sauces pair nicely with plant-based and animal- based meals, Cox says, and they were made to fit several diets.
Other brands making a mark: 2019 Gold Sofi Award Winner Wildly Delicious offers Korean BBQ Sauce and other products with global roots like tikki masala, souvlaki marinade and stir fry sauces; Chung Jung One offers a Gochujang line (an authentic fermented Korean paste made of rice and red peppers) including Korean chili sauce, spicy ketchup sauce and spicy miso sauce.
Texture is another factor. “For so many years, the condiment category was saturated by lower viscosity sauces of various flavor profiles, which ultimately expanded to more international flavors. Given the culinary experience has shifted beyond taste, we’re seeing condiments that are integrating in more textural elements,” says Julie Busha, president of Slawsa, Cramerton, NC. Slawsa is a cabbage-based relish with heat undertones.
3) Plant-based…of course!
Infusing healthier substitutes in traditional recipes is a premium trend. Companies like Spinelli’s Sauce Co. in Denver are using the health benefits of a trending veggie: cauliflower. Spinelli’s launched a new Cauliflower Alfredo Pasta sauce with cauliflower, non-GMO tomatoes and no added sugars, says owner Chris Rogers.
The Italian dinner is a beloved ethnic cuisine, and manufacturers are bringing it back to organic roots. Companies like Cucina and Amore never use artificial flavors. And Colavita, a producer of extra virgin olive oil and Italian sauces, offers organic tomato sauces and other condiments like pestos, and spreads. Bono USA offers Extra Virgin Olive Oil and marmalades to give foods a flavorful boost.
But meat-based is still big, too. “There are some ingredients, like bacon, that no matter what the season or top trend is, they will always do well,” says Mary O’Donnell, CEO and owner of Terrapin Ridge Farms. She adds that the company’s sauces pair well with center-of-the-plate items like pork, fish or chicken. “Our products also go extremely well with cheeses and make a great accessory to any charcuterie board.”
Culinary delight—made convenient and easy
Sauces and condiments can make bland food good—and good food even better. On that note, diversity in usage is what Carrington Farms strives for. “Carrington Farms Oils are made with simple, clean, real and yummy ingredients that pair well with almost all of our consumer’s needs,” says Shandel. “Our products truly adapt to the consumer, whether they need an alternative cooking oil, an addition to their smoothies or want a twist on a dull recipe; even as a finishing oil to give a dish a zesty zing!”
Focusing in on the busy lifestyle, products need to be convenient, tasty and useful for multiple meals. “The nutritionally conscious, time crunched parent is probably our most typical consumer,” says Ousley. “They are looking to feed their family a delicious, healthy meal but don’t necessarily have 45 minutes to work through a complicated recipe. Our Mild Taco sauce, as an example, pairs best with poultry and our Southwest Taco pairs best with ground beef. For plant–based options, both of these pair nicely with both jackfruit and cauliflower rice. Our Fajita Simmer Sauce is fabulous with all proteins—chicken, beef or shrimp as well as with all vegetables, like peppers, onions, mushrooms and zucchini.”
Similarly, BetterBody Foods & Nutrition has a line of mayo items made with 100% pure avocado oil. “We put our mayo on literally everything,” says Lindbeck. “We’ve even been known to put it on pizza. Our favorite is the Avocado Chipotle Lime Mayo, which is delicious on burgers and sandwiches and roasted corn.”
Strategies to Sales Success
“Our key customers are looking for products that improve on their current favorites in both flavor and health profile. We find that if you make a great tasting, clean product, customers want to buy it,” says Lindbeck. “The market is out there waiting for you. Retailers just need to find products that fill a gap or solve a problem and then communicate those product stories to the customer.”
At 14 Carrot, Chettinger says, “We’ve created a section at the store’s entrance to cross merchandise these items along with end caps, and of course the actual aisle where these products are housed.” The goal, he says, is to draw attention to the new and hot items, but to also allow the consumer to see the items multiple times to help them realize these are the products that they need to pay attention to and to try something they may not have tried before.
Incorporating a multi-dimensional approach with communicating, product placement and sampling tend to do well. The product profile is what sells, though, according to Chettinger. “We pride ourselves on offering only clean products with no artificial ingredients and we call out the product features on our shelf labels. The actual items, like Keto, no added sugar, no sugar, Paleo, gluten-free, non-GMO are some of the characteristics on our labels and we also highlight specific things like sweetened with stevia, non-dairy, vegan, etc. on shelf tags, sale signs, product spotlight, hang tags and store signage.”
When arranging the store, product placement has never been more crucial. “While Slawsa can fit in with the shelf-stable relishes, we see more movement when placed in the meat department near the hotdogs and sausages,” says Busha. “It just becomes much more of an impulse buy near the complimentary meats.”
Additionally, Busha says, their best customers make decisions based on their palate. The number one success strategy is sampling product. “We encourage sampling because our products really stack up well when sampled; customers are wowed by the flavor.”
The best way to sell, Rogers agrees, is to offer demos and coupons to help retailers reach these consumers. “Once they try, they buy.” WF
1) “Condiments and Sauces: U.S. Retail Market Trends and Opportunities,” Packagedfacts.com, Posted 6/26/2017, Accessed 6/10/19, www.packagedfacts.com/Condiments-Sauces-Retail-Trends-Opportunities-10952710.
2) IFT Newsletter, “Flavor Forecast,” www.Ift.org. Posted 12/27/17, Accessed 6/16/19, www.ift.org/Food-Technology/Newsletters/IFT-Weekly-Newsletter/2017/December/122717.aspx
3) Hans Jørn Juhl, Morten H. J. Fenger, John Thøgersen, “Will the Consistent Organic Food Consumer Step Forward? An Empirical Analysis,” Journal of Consumer Research, 44 (3) p 519 (2017)
4) “This Memorial Day, Americans Will Substitute Summer CPG Staples for Alternatives,” Nielsen.com, Posted 5/22/2019. Accessed 6/28/2019. www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/article/2019/this-memorial-day-americans-will-substitute-summer-cpg-staples-for-alternatives/