Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
You can’t go wrong with a slice of toast smothered with jam at breakfast-time, or even as a cheeky mid-afternoon snack. But today’s consumers are using conserves and other sweet spreads in more inventive ways than ever before. From baking to pimping up porridge, 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 adaption to hybrid working, scratch cooking and interest in health has created new occasions to enjoy even the simplest of products.
The provenance opportunity
According to Halima Markey, business development manager at Skoulikas, “These days, consumers are looking for new and exciting ways to enjoy top-quality spreads and snacks, at a reasonable price. As a consequence, we have worked very hard to produce palm oil-free spreads, as this is of particular concern to many, and thus our Sunita Sesame and Nut butters are without palm oil. “
But for Annabel Makin-Jones, founder of Annabel’s Deliciously British, when it comes to consumers, “It’s not ‘what are they looking for?’ but ‘what should they be looking for’”. She explains, “For example, they should be looking at the British-grown fruit used in jams and conserves and the percentage of fruit used. In terms of honey, anything that states ‘blended’ is watered down, and uses bees in mass production trapped inside, only fed on sugar syrup! That must be avoided at all costs.
“Consumers want to feel attached to what they are buying, knowing the face behind the name and the nostalgia that goes with it.”
Strong provenance is something that Panos Manuelides, founder of Greek and Mediterranean fine food producer Odysea, also stresses the importance of when it comes to sweet spreads. “We’ve seen an increase in demand for honey products with unique and interesting provenance, flavour profiles and health benefits”, he explains.
“Alexandros Gousiaris, Odysea’s honey producer, harvests the honey at the end of July from hives placed in vast ancient Oak forests at the foot of Mount Olympus. We’ve found that consumers really connect with an interesting provenance story like ours.”
But Annabel suggests going even further, as she stresses that it is important for fine food retailers to look into the provenance of a brand and ask more questions than what is on the label. “Food labelling is incredibly poor and allows a lot of false advertising so always read the back of the pack”, she explains.
“I have seen British flags on the front and back of the pack, even though it says not produced but packed in the UK – it is a complete deception and we need to educate the consumer about the provenance of produce.”
With supermarket shelves stacked high with poor quality, cheap and blended honeys, Panos describes, “We’ve found there’s a growing awareness amongst consumers as to the benefits of buying honey from smaller producers.
“The importance of checking labels is widespread, and consumers now realise that honey labelled ‘blend of EU and non-EU honey’ doesn’t offer the flavour or nutritional value traditionally associated with honey, and are increasingly prepared to pay a premium for unprocessed honey from genuine producers.”
Focus on health
As nutrition becomes a focal point for consumers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, healthier spreads such as manuka honey and pure nut butters are gaining popularity.
Currently, the number of consumers looking for products with no additives or artificial preservatives is increasing. Demand for products with ‘clean’ labelling is on the rise, with customers becoming more inclined to pay a premium price for products with this specific label.
Halima explains, “The health advantages of nut butters have become increasingly prevalent in recent years. As a consequence, the market and consumption of these products have grown, due to a wider appreciation of their benefits.
“In addition to this, consumers have become ever-more conscious of their own health, with ever-improving lifestyles to match. Nut butters are a nourishing and satisfying food to include in a balanced diet – they provide healthy (unsaturated) fat, protein, fibre and a variety of vitamins and minerals including vitamin B, vitamin E, zinc and iron.”
Consumers are also increasingly using jam, honey and spreads in their cooking and baking – no longer are they simply toppings for toast. According to Panos, “Honey is an extremely versatile product that’s been used in cooking, for both sweet and savoury recipes for centuries. It’s fantastic when used in a marinade, dressing as well as adding natural and complex sweetness to baked dishes.”
For Jeff Higgins, owner of The Wooden Spoon Preserving Company, “Jams get a level of unfair press when it comes to health. Reducing sugar levels will lessen the preserving aspect, and not necessarily lead to better flavour. A traditional morning intake will quickly metabolise and it continues to play a part in a balanced diet, though admittedly a dollop in the afternoon along with cream and scones needs to be measured!
“No-added sugar spreads cannot be called jams which is unfortunate, as the name alone puts off as many people as it attracts; these contain fruit and fruit concentrates, so are effectively 100% fruit albeit still contain up to 50% carbohydrates.
“However, the great thing with these is that they don’t need to cook for as long so the result is a true fruit flavour. We launched our No Monsters in Me range of spreads this year, aimed at the family market with names such as The Phantom Fruit Picker’s Blackcurrant Slime, and we’re starting to get traction!”
Fine food retailers need to make sure they are catering to demand both from their customers, and the general trends within the sector for sweet success.
According to Halima, “The current booming business transformation in the grocery sector of food retail is moving at a faster pace than has been evident for many years. One cannot understate the importance of forecasting, though the need for long shelf-life products to fill the stockrooms does not necessarily have to match consumer demand, which enables greater control of stock-flow through the supply chain. In this way, retailers could theoretically stock up on more popular lines where available.”
Jeff supports this idea, adding, “Successful independent retailers not only need to keep abreast of customer demand and trends but also need to ensure constant availability of stock, bestselling lines in particular. Good delivery service is paramount, along with timely ordering. We strive to provide a flexible service to suit all customers.”
As Panos concludes, “Moving away from typical brands, and providing a variety of high-quality, well-sourced and interesting products with an engaging backstory is an unrivalled way to excite customers.”
Above all else, indie customers are looking for a point of difference from what they find in the multiples. Thus, good quality products with marks of distinction such as local sourcing, premium quality of ingredients, the promise of flavour, uniqueness and provenance are paramount to getting jams, honey and spreads right in 2022.