In January, Kraft Foods Group, Northfield, Ill., rolled out a line of Miracle Whip Dipping Sauces. The four flavors include Sassy Sweet Tomato and Smokin' Bacon Ranch, and the suggested retail price is $2.99.
Kraft will spend a heck of a lot more than that on a related multi-media ad campaign that kicked off in March. Print ads in magazines including People, Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone, plus radio ads in select markets will help build momentum for what could be a lucrative brand extension. And why? Because dipping sauces are hot. And with the brand recognition of Miracle Whip, which has annual sales of more than $250 million, this looks like a pretty sure bet.
Market researcher Mintel Group is forecasting 3 percent annual increases in dollar sales for a broad spectrum of sauces between 2012 and 2017. Offering a convenient way for both restaurants and home chefs to add a variety of flavor and texture to otherwise ordinary dishes, sauces appear to have a bright future.
"As culinary trends continue to evolve, one constant is a desire for even more choices," explained Robin Ross, associate director of culinary at Kraft, when this year's new products were unveiled. "Consumers have varying and multiple needs for their food and beverage choices. Some consumers find a healthy balance with less complex ingredient lines is important, while others want bold or ethnically-inspired taste experiences. Young people are especially adventurous and food savvy. They don't want to miss the latest food news, whether it's trendy flavors, pop-up restaurants or the newest food truck in town."
Kraft says bold flavors are in — especially peppers of all kinds, and bacon. And those kinds of flavors are the focus of the new dipping sauces. The accompanying bold advertising campaign has those flavors coming from the "Twisted Minds of Miracle Whip," which might be a marketer's way of describing a major food manufacturer's product development staff. But they might also come with a little help from an ingredient company
Cargill, Minneaplis, makes finished sauces that are sold to the foodservice industry. Cargill also produces and sells oils, sweeteners and texturizing ingredients that are used in a variety of sauces, says Wendy Erickson, a texturizing solutions technical manager for the company. She says Cargill's sauce manufacturing customers are always putting flavor first.
"Sauce is really the vehicle for delivering that unique flavor of the whole dish," Erickson says. "Our customers look for a familiar but high-quality, high-intensity flavor while also working to reduce calories or reduce fat."
Sauce also has to look great, have a pleasing aroma and the proper mouthfeel, and behave the right way on the dish — so getting the right cling is important, for example. Only if all those elements are present will the sauce succeed in adding to the overall dining experience.
Less is more
One of the most important drivers for the sauce categories has a familiar ring to it. Consumers want products that are lower in sugar, salt and fat, and they want a clean label with a reasonable number of ingredients.
Sauces are made with a combination of spices and flavors, usually in an oil base that has been texturized with thickeners and emulsifiers to provide texture and uniform dispersion of flavor ingredients. With those ingredients being practically essential to the product, it's easy to see that there would be some obstacles to obtaining a clean label. Yet, those obstacles can be overcome.
Sweet Baby Ray's is one of the top 50 brands of barbecue sauce in the U.S. Its Original Barbecue Sauce, described as "sweet and tangy," has a rich history involving a storied Chicago barbeque competition. As with many similar barbecue sauces, the four main ingredients are high-fructose corn syrup, tomato paste, vinegar and modified food starch.
A single, 37g serving contributes 70 calories and 16g of sugar to the diet of its backyard consumers. By comparison, Organic Annie's Original BBQ Sauce from Berkeley Calif.- based Annie's Inc., provides 45 calories, and 10g of sugar in a slightly smaller 34g serving.
Both products are made with more than 15 ingredients, although just a handful of them make up more than 2 percent of the product by volume. The ingredient deck for the Annie's product includes 17 ingredients, but it starts with brown rice syrup. Starches are lower on the deck than the expeller-pressed blend of "canola, soy/and or sunflower oil."
The Annie's sauce sells at a higher price point than the Sweet Baby Ray's. Undoubtedly, both are good, successful products, but the point is that food formulators have more at their disposal in terms of being able to meet customer expectations in the category than one might expect.
Whether it's texturants, spices, dairy ingredients or oils, there is a wide variety of ingredients available. And ingredient technologies are moving toward products with more intense flavors, better functionality and a better nutritional profile.
Bunge Oils, St. Louis, offers a wide range of edible oils including soy, cotton, canola and palm, that are trans fat free per serving, low in saturated fats and offer a wide range of functionalities and improved flavor stability, says Mark Jackson, VP of sales for packaged oils.
"In the area of nutrition, we are seeing increasing interest and request for 'natural' and expeller-pressed oils. We currently have a small offering that works well in any liquid oil application, including salad dressings and sauces," Jackson says. "Also, I believe there is a good story to be told for soybean oil. As more nutritional research on edible oils comes to light, I think positive consumer awareness will increase for soy-based products."