Sauces and Dressings Retooled for Cleaner Labels

Innovative flavors drive category growth for condiments, pasta sauce and cooking sauces, but reformulating for a cleaner ingredient deck is also the order of the day.

By David Phillips, Technical Editor

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A February announcement from Pittsburgh's H.J. Heinz Co. that it was rolling out Heinz Tomato Ketchup Blended with Sriracha Flavor got a lot of play in the consumer press, as does anything of late having to do with sriracha. And this was not the first time Heinz has put a new spin on the ubiquitous condiment that is a keystone of its product portfolio.

Consumer demand as well as proposed government mandates on added sugar reporting on labels are driving manufacturers toward clean-label sugar reduction.

– Thom King, Steviva Ingredients

Heinz also makes hot and spicy ketchup, organic ketchup, and ketchup blended with balsamic vinegar. Heinz also owns the Classico brand of pasta sauces that includes a subset of six different Alfredo sauces.

Despite what sounds like some decent innovation from this and other market leaders, the category including condiments, cooking sauces and salad dressings is not exactly as hot as, say, sriracha seems to be.

A mature and stable category, for sure, but Mintel Group research predicts that these categories will grow at a conservative pace (3-5 percent during the next five years), unless there is more innovation. In some cases, further growth will require paying closer attention to the ingredient deck, and in others it will be a matter of meeting the needs of a changing customer base. Whatever the approach, there might be a lot of new product development and redesigning of sauces and dressings in the near future.

The slow pour

Despite high consumer penetration (86 percent of consumers use ketchup, 78 percent use mustard and 75 percent use mayonnaise), sales of condiments have struggled in the recent measurement period (climbing a slight 3 percent at current prices from 2009-2014), according to a recent report from Mintel.

Sales of salad dressing experienced similarly lackluster performance. Hot sauce (measured as part of the condiments segment in the Mintel report) continues to be a hot spot for sales growth, and were it not for gains for that subset, condiments overall would be in decline.

“Competition from other food categories, including sauces, marinades, dips, and spreads, as well as a lack of new product innovation,” has caused slow growth Mintel says.

Adding new flavor excitement to sauces and dressings might be largely a matter of thinking outside the box and getting creative, says Jean Shieh, marketing manager at Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill. Flavor products can help with that, she says.

“For tomato-based pasta sauce, because external factors like soil, temperature and sunlight could affect the taste of fresh tomatoes, using natural tomato flavors in pasta sauce, such as our sundried tomato flavor and vine-ripened tomato flavor, can help provide the ideal balance between sweetness and acidity and minimize batch-to-batch variation,” Shieh says.

“Product developers can also use natural flavors to capture unique culinary taste without adding complexity to the manufacturing process," she continues. "For example, our sautéed onion flavor and roasted garlic flavor can provide the desired savory note with the right amount of pungent garlic taste in pasta sauces and salad dressings.”

Paying closer attention to flavor trends can lead to the development of a more exciting new product or line extension, adds Julie Clarkson, senior research chef with Sensient.

“I see fruit incorporated into sauces and dressings to be a growth arena. It provides flavor, body, mouthfeel and natural sweetness. But they are seasonal and a natural product that can vary in intensity,” Clarkson says. “Flavors help provide a consistent profile all year long as well as add a distinctiveness to the finished item.”

Southern Mediterranean, North Africa and flavors from the Middle East are currently on Sensient's radar, Clarkson says. She expects to see more lower-fat sauces and the use of Greek yogurt to finish a sauce instead of cream. Dressings might be based off of yogurt instead of mayonnaise, she notes.

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Clarkson recently developed a sweet pea and African blue basil spread that is made with coarsely pureed sweet peas, Greek yogurt and a bit of Neufchatel cheese blended together with Sensient's new African blue basil flavor.

“We can see this concept be turned into a pine nut-free pesto sauce or a Greek yogurt dressing full of fresh basil flavor with anise undertones,” says Shieh.

Don't dump on salad

Mintel's report referenced research showing that consumers who buy dressings and marinades are likely to look for evidence that a product is natural or better for them.

In formulating products that meet those expectations and are also flavorful (and able to be shipped and sold in a variety of formats and store settings), product developers sometimes turn to texturants, including hydrocolloid gums.

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