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As a result of the pandemic, a new generation of home cooks adapting to hybrid working has emerged. This presents a prime opportunity for retailers to offer something different and exciting when it comes to store cupboard staples such as oils, vinegars and dressings.
“During the pandemic consumers’ lunchtime and dinner occasions in the home increased significantly,” Lucy Mackenzie, founder of Lucy’s Dressings explains. “As well as this, shoppers were willing to spend a little more on treating themselves at mealtimes. By adding a fantastic quality dressing, vinegar or oil to their salad, pizza or fresh ingredients, they were able to transform a simple dish into something really delicious. In other words – great dressings, oils and vinegars provide the perfect short-cut to add instant flavour.”
Jennie Palmer, marketing manager at Charlie & Ivy’s adds: “The biggest impact for us was that people suddenly had time – people that maybe hadn’t before. And it appeared that with this newly available time, a lot of the country headed to the kitchen, and invested those moments into creating something new, learning new recipes and generally enjoying getting to know food. This, in turn, increased people’s interest in looking for new products to try – suddenly they had the time to look further afield for ingredients that they maybe wouldn’t have had the opportunity to look for before.
“The category has always been a mainstay, however maybe not explored in too much of an adventurous way. The situation that was created by the pandemic has, in my opinion, allowed people to grow in confidence to try different flavours, and ingredients in their everyday cooking.”
Simple is winning
As the world opens back up and the public goes back to work, Jennie believes “consumers are looking for products that are simple to use. Post-pandemic, a lot of people have gotten used to having the time to experiment with food, but in practical terms, they are getting busier again. Simple products that can easily make something delicious are a winner.”
And it’s not just time that dictates what products consumers will buy, as Jennie explains: “I also feel like there has been a big shift in people eating together. The pandemic made us really value those connections, and food is often at the centre of it, so products designed for sharing I think will work well.
Mark Kacary, managing director at Norfolk Deli reflects this idea of universally liked, tried and tested flavours being popular. “There are classic dressing flavours which are always in demand. We make dressings that we feel are good enough to consume without it even being added to anything else and we find that the most successful sales products are those which generate repeat sales.”
Thinking outside the box
Georgie Abbott, founder of CBD olive oil brand Drops of Heal, notes that the rise of social media has inspired consumers to be more experimental with their oils, vinegars and dressings. “We are able to see what people eat from all around the world, so naturally we are more curious to try new flavours. Also, due to Covid, people are more versed on health and wellness – it’s all about getting the most benefit from what you are consuming. Drops of Heal is crossing two very trending times – with the rise in demand for high-quality oils and CBD, we have landed on an exciting product.”
“I think people are starting to think outside the box in what they create, Lucy agrees. “With the increase of chefs and food influencers online, I think we’re more likely to see people experimenting further and that will lead them to use new specialist products.
Moreover, oils, vinegars and dressings are now being used for a multitude of purposes. Consumers are becoming much more aware of the diversity of products and how they can be used. For example, dressings are no longer just for salad leaves, they can be used as a marinade in a stir-fry, to roast or added to a curry, soup, rice or pasta dish.
Mark mirrors this thought: “Our dressings are not only perfect on a salad, but they are also great for dipping breads into with an antipasti platter. The effect this has is that oils, dressings and vinegars are no longer confined under the heading of salads or used solely for roast potatoes.
“Cooking without oils and vinegars can be boring, and as we still all learn about the cuisines of other countries, we will find new uses for flavour combinations we would have never used previously.”
Provenance is key
While home cooks are looking for new and exciting ways to use store cupboard staples, Jennie insists that the age-old question of provenance still plays an integral role in the choice of these products. “I think provenance has become something that consumers are really aware of, certainly in the speciality market,” she says.
“A lot of our customers like to know where their products are made, and more importantly who by. That connection with the roots of a brand makes consumers feel like part of it. That’s not to say the product has to be British, I think people are just becoming more aware of supporting smaller, independent brands and those brands will always be able to communicate their provenance more.”
However, Mark believes provenance isn’t the most important factor for selling oils, vinegars and dressings. He explains: “I’m not 100% convinced that people are always looking for something which is made locally. I believe offering new taste options, and challenging the norm is as important, which in itself offers local producers the opportunity to do something different. What customers seek is something that tastes good.”
Taste is what Lucy champions too, adding: “Consumers are really interested in finding out where and how products are made but above all what they really want is wonderful flavours and a taste sensation. They are also keen to find out any additional information about the health benefits and usage. Flavours wise, we’ve seen a huge increase in demand for chilli, Middle Eastern and Asian flavours.”
Looking to the future
While the oils, vinegar and dressings sector is sometimes overlooked when it comes to innovation and experimentation, there is an exciting future ahead.
Jennie is positive about what’s next for oils, vinegars and dressings: “the future looks bright! I think there is a real opportunity to continue to engage consumers that discovered speciality brands through the pandemic and grow their audience too. I think as producers we have to take responsibility to continue to inspire and engage our audiences, and if we successfully do this, I think there are a lot of opportunities for growth.”
Georgie agrees: “This is a really exciting time for the industry, consumers are seeking the best of both worlds meaning they are both delicious and functional.”
Consumers looking for more than just a dressing is something Lucy also sees for the progression of the sector: “In the future, there will be an increased focus on health, natural ingredients and provenance. Traditional, homogenised, over-sweetened and unnatural products will become a thing of the past.”
Ensuring that your oil, vinegar and dressing offerings cater to these key trends in the sector will surely lead to store cupboard success and make you a one-stop shop for all your customers’ needs.