Pour on the flavor


The benefits to eating at home are clear – you dont have to tip anyone; you know what ingredients are in the food; and it usually is friendlier to the waistline. At the same time, however, its easy to get stuck in a rut – making chicken the same way, again and again.

But sauces and marinades allow at-home cooks to add new flavors to old favorites easily.

"Sauce is boss. Sauces have emerged as a hero item for many dishes both at retail and at foodservice," says Kim Holman, director of marketing for St. Francis, Wis.-based Wixon Inc., which manufactures a variety of sauces and other flavorful seasonings. "Sauce has become a strategy for consumers to customize a meal and make it their very own."

Fifty-eight percent of the population likes to customize food when eating out, according to global market research firm Mintel, so eateries such as Chipotle and Genghis Grill are fast becoming some of Americas hottest food joints. Moreover, many people want to have that same sort of dining experience at home – particularly millennials, who have grown up with lots of choices.

get creative with flavors and flavor combinations.

underprice premium store brand sauces and marinades.

Go gourmet

Retailers that want to develop and market store brand sauces and marinades that appeal to millennials and others might want to concentrate on premium and "gourmet" products. Premium sauces are particularly big right now, with sales for gourmet sauces, condiments and dips at specialty food stores rising to more than $1.4 billion, according to the Specialty Food Association.

"Consumer demand for premium barbecue sauces such as Sweet Baby Rays, KC Masterpiece, Jack Daniels, Stubbs, Famous Daves and regional favorites [has] overcome demand for price brands like Kraft and regular private label barbecue sauce," says Mike Hackbarth, vice president of private label at The Fremont Co., a Fremont, Ohio-based manufacturer of tomato-based sauces and specialty foods, including Mississippi Barbecue Sauce.

But retailers also must be willing to put new and creative flavors on the shelf. One current flavor trend is sweet-heat.

"Consumers like tasting a sweet and fruity sauce, but want it balanced with a little heat," says Kim Maalouf, marketing director at Urbana, Ohio-based Robert Rothschild Farm, which manufactures several sweet-heat sauces, including Hot Pepper Raspberry Chipotle and Peach Mango Habanero.

"Consumers like to try new flavors," Holman adds. "More of them have travelled throughout the world and want to experience those tastes in their own home."

Global flavors are already a big hit in the private label sauce market, data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI suggest. Dollar sales of store brand Asian sauces/marinades, for example, rose 30.6 percent during the 52 weeks ending May 19. But retailers will find room to expand ethnic sauce lineups into regional offerings as well.

"Rather than Asian, think Cantonese. Rather than Mexican, think Jalisco," suggests Rob Miller, president and CEO of Portland, Ore.-based Trailblazer Foods, a manufacturer of branded and private label sauces, marinades and a variety of other "wet" food products.

Miller also recommends that retailers start with a base of standard flavors and branch outward from those. "Choose wisely, but push the envelope," he says. "However, it is also wise for retailers to work with their supplier on an exit strategy in case the flavor doesnt take off," he adds.

One means of avoiding disaster with a new flavor is finding a manufacturer that will produce just a test quantity that can be given a trial run.

"Once the new item has proved itself, then the trend can be utilized to the store brand advantage," says Fred Lewis, president of Sarasota, Fla.-based Best Brand Bottlers Inc., which manufactures and packages sauces, marinades and condiments.

Retailers could – and should – also charge more for premium sauces, while still keeping them competitively priced.

"Some retailers within the condiments category have the tendency to price private label sauces too low versus the leading brand," Hackbarth says, but that tendency can actually backfire when it comes to sales. "Value is important, but too much value may be perceived as cheap quality."

Mind the ingredients

Another trend worthy of retailer consideration is that toward the exclusion or reduction of less-than-desirable ingredients such as GMOs and sodium in sauces and marinades.

"We believe consumers are becoming more conscious in their food choices and think its worthwhile for retailers to pay attention to some of these trends as consumers are looking for additional callouts on the product packaging," says Louis DeMent, CEO of Syracuse, N.Y.-based Giovanni Foods, a manufacturer of pasta and pizza sauces.

While his company has seen some retailers hesitating on trends due to uncertainty, the downside to waiting is that some loyal customers simply will go elsewhere.

"We see this as a trend with consumers shopping at more retailers per week to find the products that they are looking for," DeMent says.

One ingredient retailers probably should consider eradicating from some of their store brand sauces and marinades is gluten. According to "Gluten-free Foods and Beverages in the U.S.," a report released in October 2012 by the Packaged Facts division of Rockville, Md.-based, 18 percent of Americans now are buying food products specifically labeled as gluten-free, and the industry for gluten-free foods is expected to grow to $6.6 billion by 2017.

consider going gluten-free with select sauces and marinades.

forget to cross-merchandise store brand marinades and sauces with pastas, meats and other "meal solution" components.

Although a small percentage of Americans cannot eat foods containing gluten because they suffer from celiac disease or have a gluten sensitivity, many other people now are following a gluten-free diet for other reasons such as weight loss or just the perception that its a healthier way of eating. But gluten-free living isnt cheap. A price comparison study by the Dalhousie Medical School at Dalhousie University in Canada found the price of gluten-free foods to be a staggering 242 percent more than that for foods with gluten.

Many consumers committed to staying gluten-free for the long term are going to be looking for alternatives to the priciest items on the shelf, and since many sauces and marinades contain wheat or other food starches, a real market exists for potential private label sales growth via lower-priced comparable products to the gluten-free branded sauces already being sold.

"The health-halo of gluten-free definitely drives purchases," Holman says.

Stand out

Packaging also plays a role in the success or failure of store brand sauces and marinades. Just as with flavors, a little creativity cant hurt here. Many brands are starting to package sauces not just in the standard jars or cans, but also in formats destined for the refrigerated section.

"Buying in the refrigerated aisle denotes freshness to the consumer," Holman says.

Tubs or cubes similar to the recently launched Land OLakes Sauté Express cubes, for example, represent a new way for store brands to entice shoppers looking for easy but affordable dinner solutions.

"Moms do not have the time to spend on food preparation. Providing a ready-to-use cube of sauce or a tub of sauce makes it easy to open and use instantly," Holman offers.

Creative merchandising also is key to sales growth. And given their versatility, sauces and marinades lend themselves well to display in a number of locations across the store – from the pasta aisle to the meat department.

"Lead consumers to their dinner idea and drive incremental purchases," Holman says.

Hackbarth adds that display-ready cases and pallets simplify off-shelf merchandising and complement ad features.

"Shippers on smaller PET packages can create impulse purchases," he says.

As for the messaging on the package, descriptions such as "all natural" and "preservative-free" that convey freshness are effective at grabbing consumer attention. No matter what the flavor, packaging or display, however, the important thing is to make sure that your store brand product stands out. Promotions are also a good way to entice customers to choose the store brand.

"Consumers would like to try new products but with low risk," Maalouf says.

"Avoid having just another sauce or marinade at a lesser price point," Lewis says. "Be competitive and set your store brand apart from the crowd."