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How are sales in your chutneys and pickles section right now? It’s always a great (and, let’s face it, easy) category to showcase local makers, some out there culinary influences and classic styles echoing your shop’s signature theme, so investing a little time in your range of chutneys and pickles is a no brainer. But how well are yours selling through? According to Mintel’s Richard Caines, senior food and drink analyst, “Value sales of pickles, chutneys and relishes continue to increase slowly, but growth in 2019 was lower than that seen in 2017 and 2018, and volumes fell back compared with 2018. In fact, volumes have been mostly flat since 2014, showing that higher prices have been driving what growth has been seen in the segment.” Are higher prices, rather than growing numbers of units shifted, responsible for success in your shop?
Mintel has seen pickles and chutneys that add pizazz to international ingredients make a difference. “While growth in 2019 was predominantly down to inflation, within this overall picture premium ranges and pickles to go with world cuisines have helped to support sales, which increased by one percent to £212 million in 2019.”
There are some demographic factors that will impact consumption. While it can be assumed that 2020’s boom in home chutney-making has dropped off as people return to the workplace, according to Mintel a decline in consumption of bread (a ‘key carrier product’) presents a challenge to the pickles market. Analysts found that only 44% of people used pickles, relishes or chutneys in the three months to February 2020.
So has the ‘Covid effect’ that’s driven demand in some categories shown up in market data here? “Like table sauces, sales of pickles, chutneys and relishes have been boosted by increased demand for food to eat at home during the Covid-19 pandemic,” finds Mintel, “but to a slightly lesser extent given their lower pre-Covid growth projection and lower overall usage.” Sales are nonetheless expected to return to low annual growth to reach £229million by 2024, with luxury ingredients driving value as 36% of consumers see themas a good reason to pay more.
Here’s our guide to maximising sales…
Not only is food waste a huge problem (British households waste around 4.5 million tons of food every year, or approximately seven percent of the food they buy, according to businesswaste.co.uk) it’s also a very high-profile cause that clocks up a lot of column inches and minutes of airtime. The drive to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint (as well other environmental impacts, and grocery spend) often includes action on domestic food waste, and a plethora of cookbooks have emerged encouraging foodies to make more of their leftovers, most recently Anna Jones (One Pot, Plan, Planet) and Melissa Helmsley (Eat Green) and eco chef Tom Hunt (Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet).
Buying ready-made pickles and chutneys saves home cooks buying multiple jars of obscure spices or expending precious power bubbling pans for hours. What’s more, great condiments have magical powers to transform sad and sorry leftovers into a real feast, and their excellent longevity in cool cupboards or fridges give them an anti-perishable status that’s entirely fitting for today’s conscious consumer. Signposting the chutneys and pickles on your shelves as food waste heroes that will help rehabilitate cold meats, leftover veg and other random bits and bobs could be a real win.
“We undertook some consumer research last year which highlighted that cooking had become increasingly important for most people last year,” says Becky Vale of artisan chutney maker Tracklements, “both as a ritual and punctuation to the day and also as a reason to become more experimental, learn new cooking skills and try new foods. We all missed eating out so recreating restaurant meals also became more popular. People have definitely traded up to top tier condiments as part of this and Tracklements has experienced superb growth as a result.” With working hours returning to something approaching normal for many people, condiments are also helping cooks cut some time from their meal prep. “Ours are carefully made using the finest ingredients, more often than not being gently cooked for several hours allowing them to develop truly rich, deep flavours which makes them perfect for adding to meals of every description,” says Becky.
“They are the secret weapon of the larder, generously transforming simple dishes into sumptuous feasts and adding a belt of intense flavour to everything they accompany.” Delia Smith may have opened the floodgates for ready-made flavour cheats, but the generations of chefs who have followed continue to put chutneys and pickles on the radar for serious home cooks.
Just as Marmite has appeared on swanky restaurant menus, so top chefs are increasingly sharing secrets to getting big flavour into meals quickly. Becky points to Jamie Oliver’s endorsement of Tracklements’ products in his latest book 7 Ways. “He says ‘I use a lot of condiments in this book… they guarantee flavour and save hours of time in preparation… I think cheat ingredients are great! They help keep food exciting’,” points out Becky. “And he’s not alone; chef and restaurateur Mark Hix is also a fan, using Tracklements mustards as the base for dressings for everything from remoulade to mackerel.”
Discrete SKUs that can tempt punters at the point of sale are always a great win, and chutneys and pickles are a great way to bump up average spend. Ambient, easy-to-use and available in some bombastic and fun recipes, chutneys and pickles make great high-value till-point stock. What’s more, they can offer customers a little hint of a new cuisine or flavour profile without diving in with both feet. Perhaps that’s why novel and exciting flavours jump off the shelves in this section.
“We’re definitely seeing consumer demand for more challenging, exotic flavours in this category,” says Finn Dunlop, group purchasing manager of independent fine food retailer Macknade, which has stores in Faversham and Ashford. “Our deli menus include kimchi in one or two of the dishes and this is certainly a popular choice with customers. We also stock Bottlebrush Ferments in four varieties – ranging from the gentler Yellow One to the really hot Red One – to cater for the consumer appetite for ferments.” As food writers, restaurants and the rise in international takeaways push tastes, big flavours will continue to do well.
“We’ve seen lots from food writers like Ottolenghi and Sabrina Ghayour who have expanded our journey to sour flavours and experimenting with different styles,” says Becky. Once safe, sampling is an easy and effective way to enthuse customers, and chutneys and pickles make the perfect flavour bombs to wow wavering shoppers.
Support for the UK’s specialist cheeses has sky-rocketed thanks to a campaign to get Brits buying from small makers hit by the hospitality shutdown. But as appreciation and love for the UK’s traditional, small batch cheeses has grown, there’s surely scope to upsell born-again curd nerds some equally excellent accompaniments. “Our customers are looking for us to inspire them and stock pickles and chutneys that are going to elevate their flavour experience,” says Finn. “We also take a holistic view of our retail offer to ensure that our products work together and complement each other, in this case, our chutneys and pickle range can be expertly matched with our extensive range of artisan cheeses.”
“For customers looking to serve up a well-considered cheese board, the accompanying preserves are just as important in delivering a sublime taste experience. A beautifully packaged chutney is also an excellent addition to a gifting hamper and is an important element of our Cheese Experience Subscription. We also stock Le Tamerici Mostarda, a range of mustard fruits produced in Northern Italy including orange, fig and pear flavours, all of which go really well as an alternative to chutney with cheese and charcuterie. They are very popular with our customers and we also serve them with our deli platters on the menu.”
Christmas is coming and the opportunity to win the spend of customers looking for gifts in their Secret Santa price brackets, stocking fillers or fail-safe gifts for an awkward loved one is gearing up. Gifting was a key driver of growth in luxury and premium foods last Christmas, with hampers representing a particularly practical gift in uncertain times. Indeed, hoarding storecupboard luxuries has been practically de rigueur in the pandemic era, and the long shelf lives of ambient chutneys and pickles are the perfect gift items.
Of course it’s sugar, a rather demonised ingredient of late, that gives chutneys, onion marmalades and relishes their powers of preservation. Does that represent an existential crisis for these products in the time of sugar taxes? “Most people understand that sugar is a natural preservative and without it you need to introduce lots of highly processed artificial ingredients,” reckons Becky. “In a traditional preserve you can only decrease the sugar by increasing vinegar which gives a very different flavour profile.
Plus people generally understand they won’t be eating tablespoons of a condiment in one sitting. We have a spoonful alongside your main foods; it’s nothing like the volumes you take in with a sugary drink.”
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