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Independent retailers are treasure troves of condiments and table sauces. Stocked full to bursting with jars and bottles of classic stalwarts, modern reimaginings of British favourites, must-have showstoppers and innovative new brands, they are a cornucopia of boundary-pushing and much-loved flavoursome finds sure to delight customers.
Condiments saw their sales fly last year. The working from home revolution and a surge in home cooking and barbecues ignited a boom in products that can elevate ordinary meals and quickly transform an evening at home into an occasion worth celebrating. Delis and farm shops are havens for condiments, but when it comes to selecting products to stock, tradition and innovation both have something to bring to the table.
From ketchup and mayo to horseradish and mint sauce, traditional condiments are must-haves in any household, and the combination of the pandemic and Brexit caused an even greater upswing in demand for traditional flavours. “Post-Brexit Britain is witnessing a resurgence in the old favourites such as ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, with consumers spending an extra £120m over the last 12 months on an extra 68.5 million packs of table sauces and condiments,” explains Debbie King, sales and marketing director at JK Foods, the UK’s leading importer and distributor of East Asian foods and owner of the Chippa sauces brand.
“In 2021, people are behaving much as they do in a recession and reverting to comfort foods and meals with a nostalgic appeal,” adds Becky Vale, marketing director at Tracklements. Bangers and mash, traditional roasts, and fish and chips are all getting a new lease of life, and these are all meals where condiments play a major role. “Consequently, traditional condiments are enjoying very buoyant sales,” Becky says. In fact, best-in-class Tracklements products experienced a 60% increase in sales in the year to date.
Indeed, with the spotlight on traditional flavours, independent retailers can champion their most special condiments, helped by the ‘trading up’ trend, which sees shoppers who saved money during the pandemic keen to maximise their meals by upgrading elements of their meal. When compared with a high-quality bottle of wine or a prime cut of meat, speciality sauces are affordable, yet they can have a big impact on meals, and they “satisfy consumers’ desire for everyday treats,” Becky says.
The difference between big brands and artisan condiments is telling – so much so that once consumers make the switch they may not want to go back. “One of the key differences between mass-produced and speciality products is the cooking method,” says Pam Digva, co-founder and brand director of Sauce Shop. “Often, large manufacturers are working to produce huge quantities within time constraints, meeting tight margins. In speciality food production, sauces are often cooked off for long periods of time in an open vessel. This extra time and care results in a richer product that really adds something to a dish, rather than being what is essentially a vinegar-laden sugar syrup,” Pam says.
Vicky McTaggart, marketing and personnel manager at Stokes Sauces, says sourcing the best possible ingredients is what makes the difference in speciality products, and retailers need not pay too much attention to the latest fads and gimmicks. “Traditional condiments such as horseradish sauce and mint sauce should be made of the best ingredients, and taste fantastic; they do not need ‘added value’ or ‘twists’, they simply need to be the perfect accompaniment to the traditional Sunday roast or weekday grill,” she explains.
As well as boosting the profile of traditional foods, Covid-19 also disrupted conventional home cooking, with more families eating together, cooking meals from scratch and utilising their local farm shops or butchers. These newfound habits are playing into a simpler way of living and eating, which many consumers – especially younger ones – have discovered during the pandemic. “I think that the latest generation are incredibly conscious of where their food comes from and are going back to our grandparents’ generation in their thoughts of a traditional, simpler way of eating,” Vicky says.
What’s more, there is a growing focus on British-made products, Becky adds. “The love of classic condiments has been reignited, as has the demand for buying British brands which are able to demonstrate strong environmental and sustainable credentials. We have seen a swell in popularity for food brands with genuine integrity – a move to conscious consumption which we hope will continue to grow,” she says.
For traditional condiments, showcasing versatility can be key to securing sales from more price-conscious customers who may be trading up to artisan products after years of purchasing standard condiments from supermarkets.
“What one person puts in a sandwich, another puts on a cheeseboard or in a soup, or uses to top off a salmon fillet,” Becky says. By educating consumers about their multiple uses, retailers can boost the value of condiments. These pairing ideas can be played up with in-store displays, as Becky explains, “Condiments are perfect for selling from different locations around the store. Merchandising in different areas can inspire shoppers, stimulate trial, give an opportunity for retailers to show their creativity and, ultimately, result in increased sales.”
• Offer meal suggestions. “Horseradish sauce with chopped, fresh gooseberries or apple with smoked mackerel; mint sauce mixed with mayonnaise or yoghurt as a dip for samosas, bhajis and vegetable crudités; tartare sauce with a little hot sauce added is great with fried chicken. The possibilities are vast,” Vicky says.
• Focus on displays. “Display condiments on the butchery counter, the fishmonger counter and the deli – hide them away and the customer may miss them,” Vicky warns. “If the customer has bought their piece of pork, they will need an apple sauce, but if the apple sauce is not there the consumer may miss the association.”
• Offer tastings (when it’s safe to do so). “Tastings, when allowed, are essential to introduce potential customers to new ideas and previously unknown flavours,” Vicky adds.
On the flip side of the condiment market are next-generation products which are influenced by the latest trends and buzzwords making waves in the food sector. While every good fine food retailer should be well stocked with the classics, trending products offer a way to pique customer curiosity and spark shoppers’ imaginations with something they may have never seen before.
“Consumers are leading the charge when it comes to wanting more from what they see on the retailers’ shelves,” says Desiree Parker, CEO and co-founder of all-natural condiment brand The Foraging Fox. “There’s been a dramatic shift in consumers’ diet preferences, whether that’s vegan, flexitarian, vegetarian, calorie-restricted, keto or paleo, and these lifestyle choices are informing their purchasing habits,” she says.
“The big brands offer one thing, and I think challenger brands operating in the fine food space offer another: exotic flavours, provenance, and a stance on health and the environment. More and more, food is becoming tribal, and consumers are aligning themselves with one of a number of these movements,” Desiree adds.
One of the key areas of focus here is the health trend. The Covid-19 virus put the spotlight on health, and many consumers didn’t like what they saw. While plenty of shoppers won’t want to hit the health food shop for supplements and tinctures, they will be willing to try simple food swaps that benefit their health. “Health credentials are incredibly important today and will continue to be going forward,” Desiree says. “Consumers don’t want to see a high sugar content or the use of refined sugars. They are looking for lower sugar, natural and organic alternatives offering flavours that take them on a journey,” she explains.
Many new trends in this space are diet-led, with vegan mayonnaise being a popular example, “but more generally we’ve also seen a rise in superfoods as core ingredients and functional food,” Debbie says.
One superfood ripe for opportunity in the condiments market? Fermented food. “The process of fermenting foods is under the spotlight for the potential associated health benefits, but it is the multitude of flavours that are produced as a result that excites us at Sauce Shop,” Pam says. “There is very little you can’t ferment, and the flavours that result are often so complex and interesting. We ferment all of our chillies in house and now have a team dedicated to caring for the ferments or ‘mash’. We love the variety of flavours you get from true lacto-fermentation and currently have some very special experiments going on behind the scenes.”
As well as health, sustainability is at the heart of many food trends today. Megan Love, sales and marketing manager of Mr Organic says that for consumers, finding brands that align with their eco worldview is key. This has influenced brands’ sustainability efforts, from sourcing to production to packaging. “We don’t use air travel, the majority of our packaging is recyclable, and we are leaders in sustainability, using organic farming methods at our farm in Italy to protect nature,” Megan says.
“If I think about what I’ve been prioritising in the product development stages from the perspective of The Foraging Fox,” Desiree concludes, “it has been this: how can we make the category offering more exciting, delicious and healthier. And that means thinking even harder about our ingredients and where we source them from.”
In addition to diet and health trends, there is also a growing appetite for “food adventure and exploration,” Becky says. “Overall we’re witnessing a more adventurous approach to eating – seen in the way Tracklements’ consumers embrace world cuisine, meatless alternatives, and flexitarian eating.” This has generated interest in the brand’s new Special Editions, which launched this year, focusing on different condiment customs from around the world, “allowing people to explore different culinary adventures in their own homes,” Becky says.
Desiree also believes that travel restrictions offer an opportunity for adventurous sauces to fly off the shelves. “Consumers have been looking at ways to bring something different to the table. Condiments are an excellent way to do that,” she says. “I think of it as bringing the flavours of the world to your plate – when everything has been so restricted it’s nice to know that we can bring a little bit of adventure to what we eat.”
Yet while consumers are keen to explore the “gateway to new cuisines and flavours” that Debbie says today’s trending sauces and condiments are opening, they are also drawn to simplicity when it comes to ingredients. “The demand for all-natural products free from artificial ingredients is increasing,” Becky says.
While innovation and experimentation are important, shoppers will always be looking for authenticity, and this is where retailers can strike a balance between their trend-led product range and their traditional favourites. “Customers will always be looking for what is new,” Vicky says. “It’s human nature and how we expect retail marketing to sell to us, so we will always need to innovate. However, change for the sake of it is not always wise or needed, so we need to retain those tried and trusted products.”