Seasonings, spices and herbs ... historically entire kingdoms were mortgaged to find faster access to more spices. The flavorings now are so commonplace, everyone has a drawer or location in their kitchen for spices.
With 91 percent household penetration and a usage rate of at least once daily by 88 percent of consumers (according to a 2004 study by Mintel Intl. Group) growing this category requires some novel ideas. Twelve spices (including dehydrated onion/garlic, mustard seed, sesame seed, and red, black and white pepper) represent 96 percent of U.S. consumption. So how do you grow this market beyond the population growth rate?
Americans are cooking less, looking for meals with fewer steps and buying more prepared and ready-to-eat foods. Not only are we less involved with preparing meals, but we spend less time eating and more time snacking. Paradoxically, we want to feel that we prepared the meal ourselves.
|Above: McCormick's first crack at the Grinders concept, from back in 2004. Below: The new, six-flavor line, Gourmet Collection Grinders, will be available this fall in grocery stores nationwide.
Our cuisine styles have become more varied, with Italian, Chinese and Mexican now considered the norm along with American. We are more accepting of other ethnic/cultural cuisines, with Cajun, French, German, Caribbean, South American, Greek, Soul Food and Thai as up-and-coming cuisine styles (according to our own 2005 It!s Convenient study). We like flavor and many want more of it. Seasonings, spices and herbs can add taste without adding calories or fat.
McCormick and Co. set out to create a premium herb mix that would fit all of these divergent needs. The result is the McCormick Grinder collection; we're focusing on Italian Herb. The Hunt Valley, Md., spice company not only created interesting mixes of herbs and spices for this collection but built right into the top of the glass bottle an easy-to-use grinder. The line was launched in mid-2004, Italian Herb was added in mid-2005, and McCormick recently unveiled an even higher-end line, Gourmet Collection Grinders, with the grinder in the bottom of the bottle, that will debut this fall.
Understanding the marketplace
The seasoning, herbs and spices category grew 2.2 percent between 1998 and 2003 and has an overall market size of $2.2 billion, according to Mintel. The big driver of this mature category is new products, specifically seasoning blends with more diverse ethnic flavors.
The category breaks down into seasonings and seasoning-and-sauce mixes. Seasonings have just less than 80 percent of the market. Seasonings grew 4.8 percent to $1.7 billion between 2001 and 2003. Within this subcategory, herbs, spices and blends increased 18 percent between 1998 and 2003. Seasoning-and-sauce mixes increased 1.9 percent between 2001 and 2003 to $500 million.
Private label growth has been fairly substantial, so this mature category needs to become more value-added to drive overall margin growth. Seasonings and spices are pantry staples and have a 91 percent penetration rate, according to a 2003 Simmons National Consumer Survey. Seasonings and spices are in danger of becoming viewed as commodities. At retail consumers primarily see McCormick and private label, followed by Morton, Lawry's, Tone Brothers, Best Foods and General Mills.
Those consumers who use the category less are younger people (18-24) and older folks (65-plus). The former is attributed to younger consumers' minimal knowledge of cooking and spices. If they do use them, they tend to use blends. It is believed that older consumers tend to be less tolerant of spicy foods and therefore use less seasonings and spices.
Spices are used most often in scratch cooking by women. Spice usage tends to be ethnically driven and regional. The ethnicities of Hispanic, Black and Asian, and the southern and western regions of the U.S. are heavier users. This might suggest a more regional marketing strategy. However, unless the manufacturer has a great logistics system, regional marketing may get very expensive. Another opportunity is to look at usage in terms of enhancing take-out food by men and younger consumers.
This all leads to a concern over how to create usage opportunities for spices. How do you support traditional usage behaviors (scratch cooking) yet enhance newer and more novel behaviors (customizing take-out foods)? McCormick came up with a package that supports and enhances both behaviors.
Grinding enables you to use more spices at the table, rather than just in cooking. The herb blend is whole in the container and is freshly ground from the container and so creates a premium feel.
McCormick understands consumers need flavor for all their foods - foods created at home and foods purchased elsewhere but eaten at home. The company is trying to shift the seasoning paradigm from that of seasonings added while cooking to seasonings added just before consuming.
This is complex, since it deals with supporting behavior while cooking and enhancing behavior while consuming. McCormick is using the perception of premiumness not only to drive shelf price (and hence margins) but also to move the seasoning out of the kitchen and onto the table.
There are many seasoning choices: traditional, fresh, garden-grown plants, dried seasonings, blends, mixes, rubs and sauces. The driver of choice is usually usage during cooking or at the table. What is difficult for McCormick is there is not enough table landscape to hold all the options so consumers might flavor individually. Creating blends gives the consumer individuality, approachable ethnicity and familiarity as the blends are culinary-style based.
Key ideas that can impact the category are convenience, flavor, healthfulness and quality.
Convenience: Consumption of prepared foods - whether from food manufacturers, grocery store delis, restaurants, or fast-food outlets - is on the rise. Yet, providing some sense of individuality or participation is a great asset. Taking that one step further, the manufacturer needs to move spices from the kitchen to the tabletop, similar to what condiment manufacturers have done.
Flavors: It is expected that as the U.S. population becomes more ethnically diverse, there will be more flavor experimentation. The issue is how to leverage this without creating too many SKUs. What is clear is that we search out familiar flavors as the norm, and then will experiment with more diverse flavors. Blends combine this familiarity with diversity, while also providing the appearance of knowing how to cook without actually being an expert.
Healthfulness: Seasonings, spices and herbs can deliver both flavor and a healthy halo. Consumers who are trying to cut back on fat or salt intake know that seasonings can enhance these healthier diets. Some seasonings have nutraceutical benefits associated with them (garlic, onion, clove, etc).
Quality: Spices can add flavor without adding calories. But quality, storage and selection of herbs and spices take a level of understanding that most consumers do not have today. This is a potential education opportunity that can move the category away from commodity, but would require education by the industry and understanding by the consumer, who may not put the time and effort into this.
McCormick Italian Herb Grinder is available in a clear plastic grinder package for $2.49-2.79 for 0.77oz. The package fits the normal size of the spice drawer and also looks good on the tabletop. The label has the McCormick logo on a red ribbon with the flavor variety called out in a specific color and Grinder under that in white. The tamper evident overwrap has "Built in Grinder" on it, along with images of how to use it. It is familiar as the form that McCormick uses for their higher end seasonings, spices, and herbs.
Flavor, freshness and size of piece are critical to the perception of quality. This product surprises. The package is beautiful, with lots of different herbs and seasonings visible inside. The particle size is large; the pieces of onions, tomatoes, rosemary, garlic, two types of pepper, sea salt and parsley are large and multi-hued, giving the feeling of quality that this might be served in a white tablecloth restaurant. Pop off the top and you can smell the aroma.
Grind it and you get smaller particles of flavor... which blend together to create a familiar Italian aroma and flavor. The flavor has a perception of freshness since it has just been freshly ground and blended. The package is tabletop-friendly, so most consumers were left with a quandary: Where to store this? With their spices or on the tabletop?
Using it in cooking provided a seasoning level that was good. Scratch cooks still wanted their regular herbs and seasoning. They felt they had better control and thought that this form might cost them a lot more. Younger/less experienced cooks found this grinder gave them a sense of being more competent in their cooking and made their somewhat processed meals taste better and maybe even fresher.
The grinder worked really well on the tabletop. Frozen pizza was easily customizable by both the light seasoning eater and those who wanted more intensity. This product allowed the individual control over how much they got and that was a good thing. And the delivery of the seasoning mixture on the food looked good.
Does the product deliver?
McCormick is the manufacturer of spices, herbs, extracts, proprietary seasoning blends, sauces, and marinades with a brand that has focused on taste you trust. The Italian Herb Grinder is both convenient and leads consumers to consider a new space. They can use the grinder while cooking or while consuming at the table any food that is in front of them. It delivers the flavor, the perception of quality, the perception of uniqueness. The flavors are premium and fresh.
In an era of not knowing or trusting what you get, this product lets you see what you get and transform it into your own real seasoning mixture.
How to make the idea bigger: This package fits cooking and tabletop use well, but how do I use this product when I am eating on the run, snacking or purchasing my food from takeout? There may be an opportunity for a smaller package for individual use.
Rating: McCormick Italian Herb Grinder does deliver in enhancing consumer behaviors both in cooking and on the table top. The biggest issue for a consumer will be the selection of what flavor blends and where to store this when dual usage is happening.
Market potential: Good fit to behavior, good for the category. Great execution on elements of premiumness and authenticity.
About the Authors
Hollis Ashman (email@example.com) is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of the Understanding and Insight Group, a strategy, business and product development firm. See www.theuandigroup.com.