Home cooks love to use sauces and marinades to transform a recipe and add interest to otherwise ordinary dishes. They're also easy ways to venture into ethnic cuisines. That means food formulators are challenged each year to create new flavor twists in sauces products that are both easy to use and healthy.
Condiments appear to have a bright future as consumers are increasingly interested in bold flavors and gourmet cooking. Sauces, dressings and marinades are projected to show solid sales growth going forward. Mintel Group (www.mintel.com) reports sales in these categories grew 12 percent between 2010 and 2015, and expects them to continue rising about 13 percent from 2015 to 2020, reaching $6.2 billion.
Hot sauce is hot
Hot sauce is not only "hot," as a flavor booster, it's becoming mainstream. This sub-category of sauces is among the 10 fastest growing in the U.S. and boasts more than $1 billion a year in sales worldwide, according to Barb Stuckey, president and chief innovation officer at contract product development firm Mattson (www.mattsonco.com), Foster City, Calif.
Hot and spicy flavors have taken off in the past decade, as family owned McIlhenny (www.tabasco.com/mcilhenny-company) knows well. It has taken Tabasco's original bright chili pepper sauce to new heights, expanding into seven varieties, ranging from mild to wild: Green Jalapeño; Sweet & Spicy; smoky Chipotle; Buffalo Style; Habanero and Garlic Pepper. The Louisiana company also makes marinades and condiments such as Caribbean Style Steak Sauce, spiced with Tabasco's signature peppery flavor. Tabasco is co-branded in Heinz Tomato Ketchup, A1 Steak Sauce and Plochman's mustard to name a few, and is seasoning many other products, including salad dressings, spreads and sauces.
Renfro Foods (www.renfrofoods.com) says sweet heat and fruity flavors are here to stay. Its barbecue sauce, salsa and nacho cheese sauces flavored with ghost peppers are vastly popular. "At farmer's markets, you'll find blueberry jalapeno, strawberry serrano, habanero blood orange and chipotle barbecue sauces with brown sugar," explains Doug Renfro, president. "But after several years, the ghost pepper trend has accelerated. People love the endorphin rush, the addition of flavor to boring foods, the aroma of the various peppers. For years, there was a fast-growing demand for ultra-hot, but the only available products were premium, gourmet priced. We were first to have a nationally available, moderately priced ghost pepper sauce."
Asian flavors have soared in interest, giving sriracha chili sauce a cult following. The fiery flavor is in everything lately, from traditional Vietnamese dishes to mayo, potato chips, even candy. A mix of red pepper, vinegar and garlic, the wildly popular sauce has been popularized by Huy Fong Foods' owner David Tran (www.huyfong.com). Huy Fong's crimson red Sriracha Sauce, in a green-capped bottle featuring a rooster graphic, has hit double-digit sales growth each year without Tran spending a single cent on advertising. Tran arrived in Los Angeles in 1980 from Vietnam, and established a family business now leading the Asian hot sauce category.
Sriracha sauce, too, has stretched into co-branding arrangements. Kraft Heinz in 2015 launched Heinz Tomato Ketchup Blended with Sriracha Flavor to capitalize on the continued strong growth of chili sauces. Huy Fong Sriracha also combined its sauce with Red Gold Tomato Ketchup for its own Sriracha Ketchup, marketed by Red Gold (www.redgoldtomatoes.com) and packaged similarly to Huy Fong's Sriracha Sauce.
Gochujang is another flavor elevating the eating experience. Makers of the sweet but hot Korean pepper paste, like Chung One Jung (www.gochujangsauce.com), are hoping to snare some of Sriracha's success.
Pasta sauce innovation continues
Pasta sauce is one of the biggest sub-categories in the sauce category. Italian foods may be mainstream in the U.S. now, but that hasn't stopped innovation, or attempts at more interesting versions of traditional "spaghetti sauce."
Victoria Fine Foods (victoriafinefoods.com) this year launched an artisanal line of organic pasta sauces in 24-oz. jars available exclusively at Sur La Table cookware outlets nationally. Flavors include Pomodoro, Fra Diavolo, Roasted Garlic, Vodka Sauce and Chianti Marinara. All are made with simple ingredients featured prominently on the front label.
Unilever created the Bertolli line of pasta sauces based on the brand's genuine Italian roots. When paired with Unilever's Ragú brand, the No. 1 pasta sauce across all key consumer metrics, the twosome represented the largest branded pasta sauce producer and distributor in the U.S., with strong brand appeal and broad portfolios in both the premium and regular categories. Unilever had a fine run with the two, but sold the brands to Japan's Mizkan in 2014.
Mizkan (www.mizkan.com) continues to innovate and has introduced organic versions of the red sauces -- Organic Fire Roasted Garlic Marinara and Organic Five Cheese with Romano, Parmesan and Asiago -- plus white sauces in Four Cheese Rosa and Creamy Basil Alfredo.
Pasta sauce wasn't much of a stretch for the company. Mizkan has been a global leader in liquid condiments, although most involved Japanese soy sauces, rice vinegars and soup bases. But the Japanese company bought into the Holland House and World Harbor brands a decade ago, and has stretched its Tres Hermanas peppers acquisition into Mexican cooking sauces.
Mizkan America initiated a clean-labeling program with its launch of two new Nakano organic Rice Vinegars and a full reformulation of its line. The light, tangy vinegars include seven new and reformulated versions: Original; Natural; Citrus; Mango; Roasted Garlic; Basil & Oregano; and Balsamic Blend. Research shows consumers are purchasing products for cleaner meals, says Sara Delach, brand manager. "Real and organic offerings are incredibly important. We have extensive organic offerings in pasta sauces, white distilled, apple cider, balsamic and rice vinegar and in our pepper segments," she says. "The organic segment is focused on creating variety and introducing new flavors as consumers demand innovation. Flavor selections and new product innovation has never been more important than it is today. Our corporate chef Guy Meikle thinks culinologists need to market multicultural, multiethnic and multigenerational foods made with bold ingredients and even bolder flavor profiles."
For the barbecue
Weber Sweet & Thick Barbecue Sauces from ACH Food Companies (www.weberseasonings.com) were created specifically for the grill. They have a thick consistency that sticks well to food, a trait research shows consumers want, says Terrence O'Donnell, senior brand manager for Weber Sauces & Seasonings. The five flavors blend classic spices with sweet molasses and are free of HFCS, artificial flavors and artificial preservatives. "Our 'thick' formula allows the flavor to linger longer, creating a more satisfying experience compared to the quick hit that other brands offer," O'Donnell says, adding that the sauce is hot-filled into glass bottles to provide a fresh, quality flavor. ACH also makes Weber dry marinade mixes that are big on flavor.
Speaking of flavor, Chelten House Products Inc. (www.cheltenhouse.com) nabbed two top awards from the Association for Dressings & Sauces (www.dressings-sauces.org) in its annual condiment competition. Bridgeport, N.J.-based Chelten House's Bacon Moonshine BBQ Sauce took the Sauce of the Year, the fourth year winning the award.
Chelten House, which also makes organic pasta sauces, mustards, ketchups and salad dressings, combined two zesty tastes in the Bacon Moonshine BBQ sauce, using bacon as a distinguishing flavor and consumer favorite, said Jason Dabrow, COO.
Irwindale, Calif.-based Q&B Foods won the Dressing of the Year for its innovative Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing and Marinade. Jerry Shepherd, president of Q&B Foods, describes the delicious dressing and marinade as "having a uniquely bold sesame flavor, using the highest quality, non-GMO-verified ingredients that encourages creative use to inspire your inner chef."