All In One


Dips, sauces and dressings increasingly demonstrate their versatility.

How popular are dips, sauces and dressings among consumers? One good indicator of these related products' rising popularity and diversity is a recent chicken wing promotion The Fresh Grocer held in its prepared food department over Super Bowl weekend.

"The wings retailed for $4.99 per pound and were offered dressed in a variety of sauces: buffalo, barbecue, Southwestern ranch, Jamaican jerk, honey mustard and teriyaki," explains Carly Spross, marketing director of the Drexel Hill, Pa.-based grocer. "The variety of the various sauces helped spike sales compared to last year, when we only offered a limited assortment of mild, spicy and hot chicken wings. The ability to mix and match flavors also appealed to our customers, because it provided them with more freedom to customize their platters."

One Product, Many Uses

For those who wish to re-create such flavors in their home kitchens, there are plenty of center store and refrigerated options — and many of them can serve various purposes.

Take Uncle Dougie's, for example. The Chicago-based company, overseen by CEO and self-described "foodie" Tim Condon, offers a killer "clean-label" small-batch wing marinade — all products are 100 percent natural — that can also be used as a stir-fry or dipping sauce. One of Uncle Dougie's latest offerings, Kung-Fused, boasting a trendy taste profile derived from such ingredients as ginger, sriracha and Thai chili paste, is described by Condon as a "fragrant combo of three things that encompass Asian cooking: sweet, savory and spice." In fact, the marinade is so on target, Condon relates, that it inspired company founder Doug Tomek to quip, "I'd drink this stuff right out of the bottle."

To create interest in its products, the company demos wings at such retail partners as Whole Foods Market and Lunds in a process that Condon refers to as "converting people one taste at a time." The events routinely cause the marinades to sell out, so Uncle Dougie's "will usually hold back a few bottles to make sure there's stuff on the shelf, so as not to lose facings," according to Condon.

Other key elements of the company's grass-roots marketing strategy include social media via a new website launched late last year; cross-merchandising in Whole Foods' meat departments; a label redesign to feature the product line's "no-crap credo" front and center — a change Condon says "does a lot of the heavy lifting" in attracting consumers — and a holiday recipe for Gluten-free Sweet & Spicy Bison Balls, produced in partnership with Denver-based High Plains Bison.

Praising High Plains' product as "a high-growth protein [with] natural nutritional advantages over beef," Condon explains that such culinary collaborations facilitate "consumers'journey of exploration and discovery regarding food."

Multipurpose items are also on the menu for Hidden Valley Ranch, a brand of the Clorox Co. in Oakland, Calif. NPD Group research from 2011 found that more than 30 percent of ranch dressing use is outside of salads, with chicken, potatoes (including French fries), pizza and sandwiches among the top uses, notes Elaine marketing manager for Hidden Valley. "This passion for ranch and the versatility of the flavor was the impetus for the launch of Hidden Valley for Everything Topping & Dip in spring 2012, specifically formulated to be thicker and creamier, and to hold up better on hot foods," she says.

Jun adds that Hidden Valley's well-known dry mixes "are an easy way to add the great taste of ranch and a kick to recipe standbys, from snacks and dips to main dishes."

Consumer shopper promotions include shelf talkers on Hidden Valley for Everything Topping & Dip, and the Farmhouse Originals dressing line, with placement both in aisle and in front of bagged salads in the produce department. The brand also conducted a test launch of the Shopkick mobile application and placed bounce-back coupons on Farmhouse Originals sampling neck hangers.

Hidden Valley's integrated merchandising tactics encompass such components as in-store demonstrations with recipe card/coupon distribution; website and social media features, including recipes and video vignettes; targeted e-value offers; themed circulars; custom microsites; in-store booklets; shelf tags; and in-store displays. This varied approach ensures "that the versatility of ranch is understood by the consumer throughout the year," according to Jun.

New products from the company include Hidden Valley Sandwich Spread and Dip in Spicy Chipotle Pepper, Oven Roasted Garlic Parmesan, Smoked Bacon Ranch and Country Herb Ranch flavors, for which an FSI is planned in April to help drive awareness and spur purchase, and Hidden Valley Classic Guacamole dip mix, which requires the addition of two avocados.

Cool Dips and More

Speaking of guacamole, over in the refrigerated section, Wholly Guacamole, a brand of Saginaw, Texas-based Fresherized Foods, offers an "all-natural, no-preservative dip that can also be used as an ingredient in their breakfast, dinner and lunch dishes," according to Jay Alley, VP of sales, who notes that the avocado is "being used as a condiment, ingredient, topper and even as a salad dressing," resulting in "tremendous growth over the last year" for the company, whose recent products include Wholly Avocado 8-ounce and Wholly Avocado 100 Cal Snack Packs, and Wholly Chunky Avocado made with 100 percent Hass avocados, with more new items due in May.

Beyond guacamole, Wholly has expanded its salsa output to include such fruit flavors as pineapple, mango and, of course, avocado. "Consumers are using salsas as salad dressing and sauces to spice things up a little in their kitchens," says Alley. "With usage up, we're the No.1-growing refrigerated salsa dip, and we're excited to see that continue in 2013."

This past year, Wholly enlisted tearpads and coupon machines to help drive trial and usage of its products, a strategy that "set [us] apart, because very limited on-shelf advertising happens in our sections of the grocery store," explains Alley. "These methods stop consumers at the shelf, and guide them to [try] our products. The theme 'Dip It. Top it. Spread It. Love It.' was used to give consumers a quick glance of the many uses the product has in their meal planning."

On the Sauce

When it comes to dinner sauces, consumer tastes are gravitating toward "international and ethnic flavor profiles," asserts Mary Shepard, director of sales-retail and foodservice at Kirkland, Wash.-based Fortun Foods Inc., which makes a line of refrigerated finishing sauces. "However, there are still the comfort food flavors that will always sell."

For Fortun, versatility relates to the range of proteins its products can accompany. The convenient sauces, whose flavors include Spanish Romesco with Saffron, Spicy Mustard with Brandy, and Mulligatawny Curry, "can be found in different departments, from deli to meat and seafood … so our promotions have a fit for [each] department," notes Shepard. "For example, buy a certain amount of pounds of salmon, receive sauce at half-price. We have [also] co-sponsored with protein companies to provide an easy dinner — dollars off a protein with a purchase of Fortun's Finishing Touch Sauces."

Fortun additionally offers a rack system for display over meat/seafood cases. "It eliminates taking up real estate, yet provides a great added value for the customer," says Shepard. "We also have dividers with pictures of the finished products, channel strips and marketing danglers, and each sauce tub provides recipes and a coupon for the next purchase."

What seems likely is that cross-usage of sauces, dips and dressings will continue as adventurous consumers seek to broaden their flavor experiences. As Fresherized Foods' Alley remarks of his brand's products, "Refrigerated dips are sure not for dipping anymore — condiment and salad dressing usage are now a big part of consumers' behavior."

"The ability to mix and match flavors appealed to our customers, because it provided them with more freedom to customize their platters."

—Carly Spross, The Fresh Grocer

"Consumers are using salsas as salad dressing and sauces to spice things up a little in their kitchens."

—Jay Alley, Fresherized Foods

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