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Locked indoors with nowhere to go, consumers jumped into home cooking in droves this year. When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, the closure of restaurants and cafés across the country meant that Brits were forced to get creative in the kitchen, with 39% of consumers saying they cooked from scratch more often in April than usual, according to the Covid-19 Consumer Tracker commissioned by the Food Standards Agency.
Across the board, respondents said they were scratch-cooking more often, but younger age groups recorded the highest figures. Mintel’s global food and drink analyst Kate Vliestra confirmed this: “There’s been a surge in cooking and baking among Generation Z consumers aged 16-24 with many intending to keep up their new-found culinary skills as we emerge from this crisis. In the UK, 65% of Generation Z consumers say they intend to cook more after the outbreak.”
With these changing consumer habits in mind, there’s never been a better moment for humble store cupboard ingredients to become the stars of the kitchen. These trusty flavour boosters are a must-stock for farm shops and delis as consumers seek to recreate restaurant-quality meals from home – with a helping hand from a jar of something special. “Having a wider range of store cupboard essentials gives the consumer flexibility of choice,” explains Vicky McTaggart, marketing and personnel manager at Stokes.
What products and flavours will consumers be hunting for to stock their shelves as we head into the depths of winter? According to Vicky, the sweet spot can be found with “reliable, premium condiments, chutneys, relishes and sauces known for their quality and taste” paired with key base ingredients, which are aimed at making mealtime as simple and nutritious as it is delicious.
Issues of nutrition and provenance have become key in the fine food sector in recent years, but in 2020, with more consumers shopping locally and less frequently and also questioning their food habits, Becky Vale, marketing director at Wiltshire-based maker of chutneys, relishes and other store cupboard essentials Tracklements, says demand is increasing for “top quality, long lasting storecupboard heroes”.
Store cupboard products that blend simplicity of use with fantastic flavour pay-off will find success in a year when many consumers are rushed off their feet with the new challenges of finding balance amid the pandemic. “This year in particular we’ve seen people wanting dependable store cupboard friends that can be grabbed in a moment of need to turn a quick snack into the perfect meal, make a cheese board special or add restaurant-quality flavour to a home cooked recipe,” explains Becky.
But in order to excite and engage consumers, it’s also important to stock products that match up with current trends. One of the key trends amid the ongoing pandemic? Small luxuries. Just like with the lipstick effect – the phenomenon in which sales of beauty products tend to rise in an economic downturn – consumers are showing an urge to treat themselves with luxurious little extras in order to brighten what’s been an especially challenging year for many.
Despite the pressures heaped on consumers’ purses, Tracklements has noticed demand rising from customers who are keen to trade up their store cupboard essentials, swapping out everyday products with high-quality condiments and chutneys that will bring a fresh touch of excitement to mealtimes. For example, the brand has seen a significant growth in sales of its basics, including mayonnaise, ketchup and wholegrain mustard.
Versatility is also key, and mustards, relishes and sauces have a huge part to play here. “They’re invaluable to people who are having to make one meal fit a number of different dietary wants and needs,” Becky says. “They make it super easy to adapt a meal to suit all tastes: fresh chilli jam on one salmon fillet or dill mustard sauce spread on another.”
Maria Whitehead, director of Hawkshead Relish, agrees, explaining that the brand’s bestsellers are the ones with several uses. For instance, one of the company’s top selling sweet products is its Raspberry and Vanilla Jam, which can be used as a standalone jam or to liven up baked goods, like a Victoria sponge. On the savoury side, Hawkshead’s Black Garlic Ketchup can be paired with a diverse range of foods – from a full English breakfast to steak and chips – or it can be added to dishes to bring out rich background flavours.
Warming comfort foods and nostalgic options will also be on the menu for the foreseeable future. “During periods of uncertainty, nostalgia can become a strong purchase driver as consumers seek reminders of less stressful periods,” explains Ayisha Koyenikan, global food and drinks analyst at Mintel. Stokes, for instance, noted a recent rise in demand for traditional products, like horseradish and coronation sauce.
With a newfound appreciation for a home-cooked meal and more time spent at home, it’s likely that more consumers will be keen to spend time with a recipe in order to explore new depths of flavour, an area where store cupboard products can make the difference. “We have time to make long, slow stews and soups, and flavour is the absolute key to this,” Maria says.
Yet another feature of the coronavirus pandemic is a newfound desire for escapism among those who have’t been able to travel as they’d like to this year. “When so many people are not flying off to foreign climes, I think we are all looking for inspiration from abroad in our food,” says Maria. “As a nation, we have always embraced cuisines from all around the world, but this year we are seeing more spice and heat coming through.”
Whether consumers are recreating holiday memories in the safety of their kitchens or whipping up a dish inspired by a trip that was cancelled this year, store cupboard ingredients such as curry pastes and spice mixes offer home cooks a shortcut to flavour-filled meals.
By stocking a range of internationally inspired products that can suit a wide range of tastes – from the Italian lover to the curry fiend – shops can ensure they’re hitting the mark and igniting the imagination of their customers. “Adapting recipes from many countries and adding a twist here and there may result in a mish-mash of global cuisines, yet it’s still tasty and huge fun to create,” says Vicky. Stokes found particular success this summer with the launch of new Korean and Bourbon and Cajun BBQ sauces.
Plus, with the continued uncertainty around restaurant dining, more consumers will be looking to recreate their favourite restaurant meals, which means they may be more willing than usual to venture out to spices, pastes and pickles from all around the world. But in order to secure sales, versatility is key. For example, Maria says that Hawkshead’s Hot Garlic Pickle can be used across a range of cuisines. “With the addition of either lemon or coconut you can start with the same base, yet finish with something entirely different. That is the essence of a great store cupboard ingredient.”
With restaurants still unable to cater to socialising groups in many areas of the UK due to local lockdown restrictions, there’s a potential for outside eating to extend well into the winter months. According to Maria, “fire pits and winter BBQs, blankets and friends sharing warming dishes of hearty stews, fire-baked potatoes and even firing up the pizza oven” could all be on the menu this winter.
While trends come and go, classic store cupboard staples are always on customers’ radars, presenting a perfect upselling opportunity for specialist retailers. “The great thing about a store cupboard staple is that it’s relevant all year round, and at every eating occasion. A picnic pork pie? You need a sharp pickle with that. A mature cheddar with attitude? What better than a fruity chutney to bring out the flavour?” says Becky.
But to ensure that customers keep coming back time and time again, how can you make a classic staple stand out? According to Maria, it’s all about authenticity, which means good-quality ingredients are an absolute necessity. “You need to have things that will blend and add flavour, colour or texture to a dish, or as an accompaniment bring out the flavours in the dish rather than take over in their own right,” Maria explains.
Plus, with more consumers seeking out locally made goods, there’s never been a better time to shout about your local credentials. Clear and honest labelling is key – but looks matter too. Becky says Tracklements invests “heavily” in ensuring that its products look great on the shelf in “eye-catching and unique packaging”.
Cookbooks and recipe cards can also help seal the deal with customers by outlining the versatility of a product, for instance by showing how a marmalade can be used to make a unique sauce, or how chutney can have a life beyond a cheese sandwich.
As 2020 winds to a close, it’s likely that consumers will be hunkering down in their homes once again. With the home cooking trend rising, and with it the desire for ingredients that will add something special to an ordinary dish, store cupboard products are an essential avenue for speciality shops to explore.
At the same time, consumers currently have a strong inclination towards local shopping, and farm shops and delis have much to gain as the expert guides of this reinvigorated age of cooking. “The personal and trusting relationship that people have with their local speciality shop means that they are the first place to look when searching out inspirational products; that special part of a meal that’s going to lift it out of the everyday,” says Becky. “Specialist retailers are, and always have been, the go-to place for store cupboard staples.”
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