Study – When it comes to popular condiments, simple is better

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Dive Brief:

  • In a new report by Comax Flavors, the company found that convenience, innovation in flavors and cost are the key drivers behind today’s most popular condiments, according to Food Ingredients First.
  • Although ethnic flavors and innovation and pushing condiments forward and attracting plenty of interest, the report also showed that regular or original flavors are still the most popular. 
  • The report found regular is the most popular type of condiment for mayonnaise (77%), mustard (87%) and ketchup (92%,) Food Ingredients First noted. Regular also is the most liked for shelf stable and refrigerated dressings. 

Dive Insight:

Condiments are king. People have been spreading, dipping and smothering their foods in different sauces and dips for generations, but thanks to innovation and increased interest in unique and ethnic options, the market for condiments has been growing.

In 2016, Packaged Facts reported that condiment and sauce sales rose to $24 billion, and there were no signs of a slow down. The same report showed a projected annual 1.5% increase in purchases through 2021.

From 2013 to 2017, products featuring ethnic flavors rose 20% — particularly those imported from Mexico, India and Spain — while products offering “American flavors” dropped by 7.2%, according to research from Innova Market Insights. While innovative flavors are playing a large role in the increased variety of condiments, sauces, dips and dressings in the market, the Comax report cited by Food Ingredients First showed that regular, plain and original were the leading adjectives to describe consumers’ preferred sauces. In fact, ketchup, honey mustard and soy sauce took some of the top places for favorite sauces.

The strong preference for the classics could spur questions as to whether all the flavor innovation in condiments is misplaced. A cursory look on grocery store shelves is sufficient to show that as new food trends emerge, including the addition of more unique flavor profiles from Africa and Asia, new condiments and dipping sauces featuring these spices are finding their way into stores.

In fact, ethnic flavors are high on the pecking order in terms of consumer preferences, especially for dipping sauces. Flavors like sweet chili, Siracha, duck sauce and wasabi were all mentioned as popular choices. However, manufacturers should not immediately overlook American standards in favor of innovation, particularly if they are looking to improve condiments, salad dressings or chip dips. Retailers would be wise to carry and manufacturers to produce both original and more creative flavor mix-ups depending on the individual’s preferences. 

Particularly interesting is the Comax report that in the world of condiments, 91% of respondents among all generations voted for mayonnaise as their number one flavor. However, according to Euromonitor statistics in The Wall Street Journal, mayonnaise sales have dropped 6.7% in the last five years.

Still, mayo still holds a special spot in people’s hearts. Perhaps that is why Kraft Heinz has been working to improve its offerings of the condiment. In addition to cleaning up their ingredients mix, which consequently is the least important consideration to consumers in the Comax report, they have come up with mayo blends that incorporate other classic condiment choices such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, and mustard. Called Mayochup, Mayocue and Mayomust, these combinations were widely requested by popular opinion on social media.

This real-life case study exemplifies Comax’s findings that consumers are craving original flavors. Instead of reaching to the farthest corners of the world in search of innovation, perhaps cleaning up labels and combining favorite dips and sauces is the way to win over consumers. In addition, although taste ranks as the top consideration among consumers when selecting a product, a quarter of those surveyed also are concerned with their sauces and spreads containing less salt and healthier ingredients. Manufacturers could focus on cleaning up their labels and introducing organic and GMO-free options to attract and retail consumers. 

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