Homemade dinners are often incomplete without the added kick that seasoning provides and as the desire to cook from scratch grows in Europe, the penetration of seasoning is becoming almost universal.

The ‘scratch cooking’ trend was largely borne out of the economic downturn, where financial concerns saw consumers turn away from expensive prepared meals and eating out and head back to home cooking. The trend can also be seen to reflect increased consumer desire for customisation and experimentation.

Uncertainty in the Eurozone amid the ongoing Greek debt crisis and high unemployment levels in many countries has contributed to a buoyant market. Looking across Europe – only 6% of French and German consumers, 5% of Spanish, 4% of Italian and just 2% of Polish consumers say they haven’t purchased any spices or seasonings in the past year.

Preference for spice formats varies across Europe

Although usage is high, the usage of specific seasoning types does vary significantly by market. For example, adding value through seasoning mixes offering an ‘all-in-one’ flavouring solution for home cooked meals are particularly popular in Poland and Germany. Other added value formats, such as frozen herbs and spices also have a stronger presence in Germany – reflecting the long history of quick-fix convenient meal solutions.

Elsewhere, dried herbs and spices remain the most common seasoning format – with close to half of consumers in every reviewed market purchasing dried herbs. Dried spices however, are particularly popular in Poland and Spain. These basic formats offer more longevity and value than fresh herbs and are consequently more popular among price-conscious parents and older consumers.

When it comes to individual herbs, they have the potential to be seen as less convenient than ‘all-in-one seasonings mixes’, suggesting that younger consumers, who often have less experience in the kitchen, may lack the confidence to use them. Fresh herbs also enjoy relatively healthy usage throughout Europe, with consumers attracted to their vibrant and natural flavours, though price remains an issue, particularly in France, Italy and Spain.

Millennials most adventurous with seasoning

European consumers are open to greater experimentation when it comes to seasoning their cooking, with half of German and Polish consumers saying they enjoy experimenting with different seasonings in cooking and nearly two in five French, Italian and Spanish consumers saying the same. These opinions show opportunity to increase value sales in what is a mature market.

This openness for experimentation tends to be particularly high among young Millennials – an important demographic for the market that currently under-indexes on the consumption of many seasonings. Thus suggesting the way to engage younger consumers in cooking with seasonings is by developing products that either make the cooking process more convenient, or by innovating around a wider variety of flavours. 16-24 year olds are typically much more receptive to convenience foods and Millennials are far more likely than any other generation to be interested in seeing more convenient ways to use seasonings, particularly in France, Germany, Spain and Poland, as well as being more likely to describe ready-made pastes as “good value for money.” This suggests opportunity for manufacturers to continue to develop convenient packaging formats, along the same vein as Maggi’s So Tender papyrus paper.

The demographic is also much more open to ethnic food trends than older generations. Fewer 16 to 24 year-olds stick to traditional recipes than other age groups in all reviewed European markets, while more agree that they would like to see a wider choice of ethnic food seasoning mixes, such as Korean, Vietnamese or Chilean.

Over-55s: Key seasoning demographic

While Millennials are an important target for seasoning brands, other demographics also offer potential growth opportunities in Europe, particularly the elderly. Mintel’s Old Gold trend describes this group as the “key consumer demographic”, with longer working lives presenting retailers with a “new gold rush of purchasing power and product needs”.

The over-55s currently already over-index on usage of traditional seasoning formats in many markets, but brands can look to add value by highlighting attributes that have specific appeal among this group. For example, there are particular opportunities to target seasonings with improved health profiles at the over-55s, as they are generally more health-conscious than other demographics. This is reflected in the seasonings category by the significantly high numbers of over-55s avoiding salt for health reasons than other age groups, as well as increased interest in seasoning mixes with added health benefits, such as added fibre.

There is also potential to better promote single-serve packs at the over-55s as this demographic often lives in smaller households, with just one or two people. This means that they are more concerned about wastage than other age groups, particularly in France, Germany and Poland, and over-index in their preference to buy single-use seasonings, rather than those in a jar.

Mintel’s Global Food and Drink Analyst, David Turner joined Mintel in 2012. During a 20-year career in the food and drink industry, he has gained commercial experience in CPG and foodservice markets, leading the brand and private label marketing activity for major dairy, foodservice and spirits brands.

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