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While a slice of toast smothered with jam will always be a go-to treat for many come breakfast-time, today’s consumers are using conserves and other sweet and savoury spreads in more inventive ways than ever before.
Perhaps we have lockdowns to thank for forcing shoppers to become more experimental with the jars in their cupboards, but whether or not this is the case one thing is for certain: the era of innovative spread usage is here. As well as being more open-minded when it comes to the uses of the jarred jams, honeys and spreads they have stored in their cupboards year-round, the new habits we’ve all got into during the last 18 months – whether we’ve been home-working, home-schooling or home-cooking much-loved and missed dishes from our favourite restaurants – have created new occasions to enjoy even the most simple of products.
Take jam for example. Hawkshead Relish, the Lake District-based hub of all things preserves and condiments, found that the classic occasions in which customers would enjoy their products were growing in impact throughout the past year. “Baking was huge in 2020 and we saw a large uptake in sales reflecting that,” says Maria Whitehead, co-owner of Hawkshead Relish, “but also people at home with more time on their hands would bake and have breakfast instead of dashing out of the door to work. Afternoon tea also took off in lockdown.”
The flavours of jam that particularly experienced growth in sales are a pretty clear indication of the mindset of Hawkshead Relish’s customers at the time of sale. “Especially early on in the first lockdown, when baking and home cooking were at the top of everyone’s agenda, ‘safe’ flavours were popular with those seeking out comfort foods. Since then we’ve been selling more indulgent flavours such as our Sour Cherry & Prosecco and Mojito Marmalade.”
Indeed, the demand within the UK market for nostalgia-tinged, classically British flavours has led to the business launching a range of new flavours including Blackberry & Apple, Rhubarb & Ginger and Strawberry & Rhubarb. Even these traditional flavours saw increasingly innovative uses as 2020 wore on. “With the shortages last year we all rediscovered the treasure trove of flavours hidden in our cupboards, and we’ve seen a huge increase of our jams being used in everything from salad dressings to cocktails. Hawkshead Relish’s cookbook, Embellish With Relish, is full of recipes to inspire home cooks to become more creative with the preserves in their cupboards.” Indeed, the book was recently reprinted due to sheer demand for innovative ways to make use of storecupboard condiments.
Hannah Anderson, managing director at 44 Foods, believes that the days when jams and spreads were the ugly sisters of the breakfast table have long gone. “The best way to light up any breakfast table is with a supporting cast of luxury jams, unique spreads and perfect preserves,” she explains.
“Back in the 70s and 80s a jar of Robertson’s was all you may have needed, but these days people are prepared to spend more in order to give their brekkies the wow factor. Just as our barbecues are now packed with rare breed sausages and exotic fruit punches, breakfast has had a makeover and provenance is huge. And it’s not just breakfast either. A traditional Victoria sponge is given a new lease of life with some luxury filling rather than supermarket-own spread and the same goes for Bakewell tarts.”
44 Foods, a nationwide farm shop which pays a fair price to suppliers in order to attract the best quality, has signed up brands such as Thursday Cottage and Black Bee Honey in order to give customers the very best on the market.
“With lockdown in the main giving people more money in their pocket, we are seeing increasing numbers of people push the boat out when it comes to ensuring quality throughout their storecupboard staples,” says Hannah. “And after such a tough year, who can blame them wanting a little more luxury in their lives?”
A storecupboard-favourite, honey is one of the most versatile sweet spreads out there, so it’s no wonder that it’s become one of consumers’ culinary saviours over the past few months. Naveed Bashir, co-founder of Maters & Co, has found that the business’s customers have been particularly experimental when it comes to using their range of honeys. “There are numerous ways to use honey,” he says, “and our customers are using it for things such as marinades, glazes, baking, hot drinks, on desserts, in mocktails, biscuits, granola, on pancakes and yoghurts.”
Despite its day-long versatility, traditional is best when it comes to honey shoppers. “Breakfast is certainly the most common occasion for our honey,” explains Naveed. “I expect sales of honey to increase,” says Al Overton, buying director at Planet Organic, “but more as a cooking ingredient than something to spread on crumpets.
The new cooking-heavy approach from consumers is great news for Laurence Edwards, bee farmer at Black Mountain Honey, home of Hot Fire Honey. The product came about as the result of a collaboration with a local pizza company, who suggest that it’s a perfect pairing for pepperoni pizza. “Hot Honey has long been a ‘thing’ in the USA,” he explains. “It’s been made popular by drizzling on woodfired pizzas, southern fried chicken and American BBQ.” American-inspired trends aside, “the UK honey market is definitely changing at a rapid rate,” he told Speciality Food.
“We believe consumers are placing greater importance on provenance and ethical manufacture, and that they are more adventurous with their product purchases and willing to try new products and flavours.” Laurence also suggests serving the honey alongside cheese, and even as an accompaniment to sweet dishes like chocolate cheesecake.
“Nut butters is the area of greatest change,” says Al. “It has gone from a commodity category of peanut butter to a broad category with lots of nuts and seeds being used.” Nut butters are another product for which versatility has been key to its success over the past 18 months. “It has really boomed as a category and become a staple for many more people, rather than just a sandwich filling for kids,” says Al.
According to Mike Duckworth, founder and director of Nutcessity, as well as becoming increasingly confident when it comes to using nut butters in new and different ways, shoppers are branching out into previously unchartered products – often led by health requirements and desires. “Peanut butter is still number one, but almond butter, cashew butter and more experimental varieties are growing in popularity as consumers turn towards incorporating lots of different mineral and vitamin combinations into their diets,” he says. “As people become educated as to what their body needs, they seek out ways of introducing such ingredients into their diets in fuss-free ways.”
According to Mike, the consumer move towards healthy options has “completely transformed the market. In the ‘sweet spreads’ market, Euromonitor data shows us that the UK nut and seed spread market is worth over £140m, with growth of 10% between 2015-2020 (versus 2% for jams/preserves).” This growth is set to continue, not least thanks to the continuous development of new and exciting products. “I think we’ll see many more seed spreads appear, to complement the popularity of tahini, and a much bigger focus on ingredient origin and sourcing policies,” says Mike.
For Paul Garrod, managing director of Skoulikas Bedford, now is the optimum time to launch a range of nut and seed butters. “Consumers are always looking for new and different products,” he told Speciality Food, “and we felt that combining the experience and expertise we have in sesame products, and with the growing consumption of nut butters, we could launch an exciting range of products which are a twist on the ‘normal’ products you find in the marketplace”.
There are four products in the range – Almond & Sesame Butter, Cashew & Sesame Butter, Cocoa & Sesame Butter and 4 Nut Butter – and, in line with the consumer appetite for internationally-inspired foods, Paul’s team has chosen this sesame-rich line up thanks to its popularity in different recipes around the world. “It offers many health benefits, and its smooth texture combines well with almonds and cashews to give a creamy texture and distinctive taste.”
As well as satisfying the consumer demand for world foods, the range is ideal for shoppers following a healthy lifestyle, making it a strong contender in the ever-evolving marketplace.