One of the most significant savoury flavour trends in US retail in recent years has been the widespread acceptance of spicier hot foods. No category has shown more development in this area than condiments, as they allow consumers a degree of risk-free trial; using a “hot” condiment allows individuals to dial up their own spicy heat for a meal, without impacting those they’re eating with.

Pepper use is featured in nearly two-thirds of all table sauces launched in the US in the 12 months to July 2016, up from just over half in the previous year. Sauce manufacturers appear to delight in finding new flavour descriptions to highlight the piquancy of their sauces from the standard “hot and spicy” through country of origin use or highlighting a wide range of different pepper types.

Sriracha continues to be the “hot” flavour trend

Sriracha is the third most frequently used “hot” flavour description after “hot” and “BBQ”.

One of the most noticeable trends is the continued focus on sriracha. In fact, the last year has seen a fivefold increase in the use of sriracha as a flavour in new table sauce launches in the US, becoming the third most frequently used “hot” flavour description after “hot” and “BBQ”. What’s more, one in 20 sauce launches in the last year featured sriracha as a description on pack.

Though consumers appear more than familiar with sriracha as a flavour, and use of the ingredient is increasingly widespread in table sauce innovations, there would appear to be plenty of scope for further growth. Mintel research shows that nearly a third of Millennials have purchased sriracha, compared to just under a quarter of US households overall. While this may be considered high for one specific (and still relatively new) flavour, this is still less than half of hot sauce use as a whole, suggesting the market is far from saturated.

Searching for the next sriracha

While sriracha continues to be king of the Asian inspired sauces, we find new hot sauce brands in the US continue to experiment to see if they can unlock the next big flavour trend. Broadly, development areas appear to break into two areas: either looking to promote sauces linked to specific authentic cuisines or to promote different pepper varieties.

From a regional perspective, as with sriracha, many innovations appear to focus on Asian themes. The growing influence of Asian Americans makes it likely that Asian inspired hot sauces are likely to grow in appeal in the next decade. In particular, consumers may be attracted to authentic Korean and Vietnamese inspired sauces such as gochujang, ssam, noc noc, or tuong ot.

In the last year, the US sauce market has seen a proliferation in the range and variety of different hot pepper types being offered. New hot sauce launches have featured pepper types, including (but not limited to) habanero, jalapeno, chipotle, ghost pepper (bhut jolokia), green chile, cayenne, espelette, and arbol. This approach works well for many artisanal suppliers and private label ranges as this often allows a brand to establish a number of facings on shelf, offering consumers the choice of different heat levels and showing that not all peppers are necessarily about extreme heat.

David Turner is Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel. 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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