Some time ago, jams, jellies and preserves began an evolution from rather ordinary pantry staples into something decidedly more glamorous.
The ingredients got more exotic, and formulations started including unique fruits, hot peppers, spices, flowers, herbs and spirits. The flavor combinations became more exciting. Packaging and labeling grew more lovely and inviting. The category moved upscale, up the ladder, uptown.
Meanwhile, consumers broadened their view of jams, jellies and preserves and have welcomed them in more places — paired with meats and cheeses for simple snacks or in more elaborate charcuterie creations, as glazes for main-course meats, as savory condiment additions to meaty sandwiches or as ingredients in desserts and cocktails.
The expectation is for jams, jellies and preserves to feature fuller, more intense flavors, organic ingredients and cleaner ingredient decks — in other words — to be more premium.
Hovering over all these trends, as in other categories, is the continuing consumer concern over sugar. Retailers are responding by introducing lower-sugar fruit spreads.
Swapping in more fruit to make up for less cane sugar is how Crofter’s Food crafts its fruit spreads to have one-third less sugar and calories than other fruit preserves, says Gerhard Latka, co-founder and co-owner with wife Gabi of the Parry Sound, Ontario-based manufacturer. The family business includes the couple’s sons: Daniel, Sebastian and Lukas.
Crofter’s products “definitely taste fruitier because of the high fruit and low sugar content,” and because of that, are a bit more delicate and should be consumed within 20 days of opening, Latka says.
“The fruit is what makes the spread, so we source for flavorful varieties that are carefully cultivated and tended to. You can’t make a good jam without good fruit. Our suppliers are one of the most important parts of our business,” Latka adds. Crofter’s buys its fruit from small, independent organic farmers in Serbia, Chile, Canada, Poland, Spain, Argentina, Sicily, Brazil, Mexico, California and Turkey.
Crofter’s makes the high-end Signature SELECT Preserves for Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos. Launched in October 2018, the Signature SELECT line includes cherry, apricot, wild blueberry, four fruit, blackberry, raspberry and strawberry flavors, with three more slated for future introduction.
All Crofter’s spreads are certified organic and non-GMO Project Verified, and for the company what was old is new again. Its products have been organic and low-sugar since the company introduced its first organic fruit spreads to the U.S. in 1991. It would not be until 2000 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would publish its National Organic Program (NOP) organic regulations, Latka points out.
“Today buyers are asking for organic, premium products. Today organic is the new specialty,” Latka says. Because of Crofter’s long history producing organic product, it has established a sustainable organic supply chain and is able to service growing demand, Latka says.
Crofter’s own brands include premium spreads made with Fair Trade Certified cane sugar and Just Fruit Spreads made with 100% fruit ingredients sweetened with organic grape juice concentrate.
A store brand fruit spread selection should be based in the “big six” flavors of strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, cherry and apricot, Latka advises.
“Adding a more exotic fruit as an in-and-out for a limited time is a winning strategy for retailers — for instance, mango during the summer months,” Latka adds. “That way, the jam aisle stays interesting, and if the consumer really accepts the flavor, you can make it permanent.”
Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s recently introduced its Apple Cider Jam for the fall. Made with Maine and Washington apples, New England apple cider, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, cloves, coriander, ginger and mace, it’s sweet and tart with chunks of apples, according to the company’s website. In addition, Trader Joe’s carries an extensive line of organic and reduced-sugar fruit preserves.
The Kroger Co.’s Private Selection brand, promoted by the Cincinnati-based grocer as “authentic, artisan-inspired” and gourmet, has a fruit spread lineup that includes: Sweet Honey Fig Spread, California Red Pepper Jelly, Pineapple & Red Pepper Jelly, Bitter Sweet Orange Marmalade Preserves, Triple Berry Preserves and Oregon Strawberry Preserves.
There is a revival in the ways people are using jam for more than just toast or PB&J sandwiches, Latka says. “Jam is now a featured ingredient for cheese boards and fancy appetizers,” he says.
Retailers should make their branding lively, Latka advises. “Show that you can use jam for this, you can use jam for that. React to trends — otherwise you’re missing the boat,” he adds.
Cvetan is a contributing writer to Store Brands.