When comparing Western Europe’s leading table sauce markets, it quickly becomes apparent that the UK is out of step with its nearest neighbors. Across the continent,  European markets have hit a five year trend of steady – if unspectacular – volume growth. However, the UK condiment market has failed to deliver even steady growth and alone among the top 10 EU markets has suffered a consumption decline, with per capita usage levels falling by more than 10% between 2011-2015.

Inflationary pressure will undoubtedly be an issue. Since 2010, the average price per kilogram for sauces in the UK has risen by some 22%. Comparably, over the same period, the rises in other markets were much lower: Germany 12%; France 6%; Italy 3% and Spain 2%.

Partly, this could also be a result of falling innovation levels. While markets such as France, Spain and Germany have shown a stepped increase in the number of new table sauce, mayonnaise and dressing product launches since 2013, the UK saw a significant fall in innovation. The UK did see a near 10% increase in the number of new sauces launched in 2015, yet this appears to have done little to stem the decline in sales, suggesting the type of innovation delivered has done little to justify increasing prices.

Textural innovation could lead to a “nitro” moment

We have seen textural rather than taste innovations become a significant consumer driver in many food and drink categories. Perhaps the most influential has been the trend for “nitro” coffee, a style where chilled cold brew coffee is infused with nitrogen and carbon dioxide to create a smooth, slightly bubbly drink which resembles a glass of Guinness beer more than an Americano. Texture is also becoming more of a differentiator in many food categories. For instance, in the UK, Bachelor’s launched Deliciously Thick Cup a Soups with ethnic-inspired flavours and a thicker texture.

For table sauces, the weight of innovation is focused on new and interesting flavours. There is undoubtedly potential for sauces and condiments to build on novel texture and mouth-feel to help create a point of difference.

UK trend towards unusual sauce flavours

Buga’s Chili Pomegranate Sauce

Ketch’up Beetroot Ketchup

Stokes Bloody Mary Ketchup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The majority of British table sauce consumers crave variety, and currently most innovations attempt to sate that desire by offering a near bewilderingly range of flavours. Since 2015, new table sauce launches in the UK have featured more than 70 different flavour blends, with a trend towards unusual ingredients such as tomato and beetroot or pomegranate and chili. Compare this to faster growing European markets such as Italy (23 flavour combinations from innovations in the last year), or Spain (56).

But an overload of flavour variety could, in fact, hinder consumer purchasing. Mintel Trend Guiding Choice highlights how consumers can easily be overwhelmed and confused by the number of options available. That said, if flavour variety is becoming too complicated, how then can suppliers meet consumers’ needs for variety? We know from examples such as cooking sauces or nut spreads that texture can also be an important differentiator, with sauces often positioned with similar flavours on smooth or chunky lines.

Mintel’s Condiments, Dressings and Seasonings UK 2015 report suggests that this could also be a strong point of interest for table sauces, with a sizeable proportion of consumers agreeing they would be interested in seeing sauces that provide novel textures.

Despite renewed activity levels, little true disruption

In the last four years, few if any, UK table sauces, mayonnaise or dressing launches made reference to texture in their product descriptions. Indeed, the use of textural descriptions on sauces in the UK appears to be in decline, whereas in other Western European markets the opposite is true, with textural descriptions such as crispy, crunchy, smooth, creamy or chunky becoming an increasing feature for new table sauce launches.

The UK retail environment is increasingly being led by the success of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl, which tend to hold much simpler ranges than the traditional supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Asda. In January 2015, when Tesco announced their range rationalisation reducing some 30,000 lines, it held ketchup up as an exemplar, comparing its 28 different types of tomato ketchup to Aldi’s one.

There is undoubtedly a need to refresh and renew flavour ranges, but too much focus on flavour only means consumers are becoming overwhelmed with choice. Instead, brands looking to stand out from the crowd should consider delivering consumers the flavour they love, but in new and exciting textures.

What we think

In an environment where retailers are looking to simplify fixtures to allow them to compete with discounters, unusual flavours may be unable to support more than limited time/seasonal ranging spaces. Instead, a focus on novel textures for popular flavours may help to secure more permanent fixture space. Use of vegetable pieces can provide chunky and/or crispy benefits and would also help promote a sense of “real” food, whereas textural innovations along the lines of nitrogenation could help provide a different, smoother, more premium mouthfeel.

It is likely that we will start to see more sauces looking to promote chunky, smooth, extra thick or even crispiness as added value points of differences for condiments in future.

David Turner is Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel and joined the company 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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