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

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.

“The organic movement is still gaining ground in the general marketplace, and the salad dressing industry is creating products to suit this consumer desire,” says Maureen Akins, technology manager with TIC Gums, White Marsh, Md.

For product developers formulating organic dressings, TIC Gums offers TICorganic Saladizer 100, a 100 percent certified organic gum blend designed to stabilize salad dressings and marinades. Akins says the product helps imparts cling and thickens and emulsifies the system. Additionally, Saladizer 100 helps to texturize the dressing so the desired mouthfeel can be achieved, she says.

Hydrocolloids can also serve functions in sauces. “They can help with thickening, emulsification and textural attributes to help our customers achieve their product development goals,” Akins says. “In particular, synergistic blends of guar and xanthan – our Action Gum series – can provide added viscosity, suspension and textural benefits in a cost-effective manner. Emulsifiers such as gum arabic can provide necessary oil-in-water emulsion stability while maintaining a cleaner label appearance.”

Current trends in pasta sauces often involve consumer convenience; an example is prepackaged meal kits that include pasta and a sauce. These sauces require special formulation attention, Akins points out. Manufacturers may initially freeze the ingredients to ensure successful distribution. Once at the distribution sites, these meals can be thawed out and refrigerated before delivery to the final destination for consumers to purchase and prepare in their homes.

“Maintaining product quality through this type of freeze-thaw cycling requires the use of hydrocolloids to manage the water present in each of the components. In particular, emulsion stability, viscosity and texture must be maintained to ensure a successful delivery of the product to the consumer. The addition of hydrocolloids helps to provide consistency to the product, both visually and from an eating perspective,” Akins says.

Ingredients such as locust bean gum, guar and xanthan are commonly used to provide these necessary functionalities. And TIC has products specifically designed to stabilize and enhance a variety of sauce-type applications by providing emulsification, thickening and suspension characteristics while also adding cling.

The Ticaloid Saucier product is especially beneficial to stabilize sauces with a low pH that require emulsification, such as an Alfredo sauce or a butter-based sauce.

One concern that often keeps consumers away from a particular salad dressing is sugar content.

“It is not a secret that sauces and dressings are loaded with sugar,” says Thom King, president and CEO of Steviva Ingredients, Portland, Ore. “Consumer demand as well as proposed government mandates on added sugar reporting on labels are driving manufacturers toward clean-label sugar reduction.

“We provide several clients with clean label sugar alternatives that can clean up labels and reduce added sugars by up to 90 percent,” King says.

These products include Erysweet plus with stevia, an erythritol-stevia blend available in a 100 mesh that dissolves into process immediately and delivers bright flavor profiles in a sauce or dressing application. The company also offer Nectevia, a stevia-fortified agave nectar that can serve as plug-in replacement for DE42 HFCS while cutting added sugars in half.

Perhaps invigorating the sauce and dressing categories will be as simple as adding Sriracha to a barbeque sauce, or formulating a dressing with lime juice, but tomorrow’s sauces will look and taste different from those of today.

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