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Dressing for the Occasion


For food products that are ultimately meant to go with something else — whether it’s greens, fresh-cut vegetables, or salty, crunchy snacks — dips and dressings are hardly an afterthought when it comes to consumer palates and preferences.

Indeed, while traditional varieties of both refrigerated dips and dressings are mainstays that will always have a prominent spot in refrigerated grocery cases, a closer look at the category reveals plenty of opportunity for offering new flavors and formats that meet the wide-ranging needs of shoppers. In common with a host of other retail food products, these items are currently receiving new formulations and new looks.

Americans’ penchant for snacking and desire to eat healthfully by choosing items like salads and fresh-cut vegetables remain drivers of dip and dressing purchases. That doesn’t seem to be an eating pattern that will change any time soon; according to research from The NPD Group, in Port Washington, N.Y., consumption of fresh food in the United States has grown 20 percent to more than 100 billion eating occasions over the past decade, with the strongest momentum coming from those under age 40. In a recent report, NPD projects that consumption of fresh food will continue to grow at a rate faster than the U.S. population growth, now at a yearly rate of 4 percent.

At the same time — and key for the dip category in particular — Americans are snacking more often and on a greater variety of foods. According to The Hartman Group, based in Bellevue, Wash., half of all eating occasions are snacks. Further, in a fall 2014 report on global snacking trends, Schaumburg, Ill-based Nielsen pegged snack sales at $374 billion annually; sales of refrigerated snacks, which include dips and spreads, are the second most popular type of snack, behind salty snacks.

Dips, spreads and dressings also fit into the higher-end specialty food sector that caters to gourmet-minded consumers. At last year’s Fancy Food Shows, refrigerated salsas and dips were among the foods with the highest specialty food penetration.

The combination of increased snacking occasions and a demand for fresh, healthier and different foods is already boding well for the refrigerated dip and dressing categories. According to data from the Chicago-based market research firm IRI, sales of refrigerated dips reached $754.8 million for the past 52 weeks ending Jan. 25, 2015, an 8.67 percent increase over the previous year. Sales of refrigerated dressings during the same period were also on the uptick, rising 5.75 percent to about $360 million.

IRI’s category data further show that several brands within dips and dressings were in the black over the past year. In the dip segment, sales of private label products led the way, increasing just shy of 5 percent to $133.1 million. Brands of dips that saw sales increases included T. Marzetti (up 1.99 percent), Fresherized Foods (up 21.9 percent) and Ventura Foods (up 6.01 percent).

In the refrigerated pourable salad dressing segment, several brands likewise did well from early 2014 to early 2015: Sales were up at T. Marzetti (4.36 percent), Litehouse Inc. (8.53 percent) and Bolthouse Farms (25.18 percent).

The Spice of Life

With sales of refrigerated dips and dressings remaining strong and the future of snacking and eating healthfully seemingly solid, the pace of new product development in the category is steady. Many of those new products reflect consumers’ taste for bolder flavors.

At Makoto Dressing Inc., based in Melbourne, Fla., Sales Manager Charles “Buzzy” Blyer agrees that standard flavors are being supplemented by dressings that appeal to more sophisticated palates. “I believe that consumers are looking for new, bolder flavors,” he says, pointing out that Makoto’s ginger dressing is a top-ranked item nationally. In addition to its standard ginger dressing, the company offers Honey Ginger, Orange Ginger and Yogurt Ginger dressings.

Also capitalizing on the souped-up flavor trend, the Marie’s brand, from Ventura Foods LLC, in Brea, Calif., now has a line of Bold Slaw dressings in such varieties as Sesame Ginger Coleslaw, Chipotle Coleslaw and BBQ Coleslaw. Also, Ventura’s Dean’s line of dips has augmented its standard portfolio with Buffalo Ranch, Sririacha and Bacon and Horseradish varieties. And Columbus, Ohio-based T. Marzetti’s refrigerated dressings include stalwarts like Classic Ranch and Honey Dijon alongside zestier items such as Asiago Peppercorn.

Meanwhile, even ethnic-inspired types of dips and spreads like guacamole and hummus are getting the bold treatment. Dean’s, for instance, offers a Zesty Guacamole spread, and in December, the Sabra Dipping Co., in White Plains, N.Y., added a Lemon Twist variety to its line of hummus.

To Your Health

If spice adds zest to life, then better-for-you or perceived healthy products are another key part of many modern lifestyles. To that end, some new refrigerated dips and dressings are geared to those seeking organic, natural, free-from or better-for-you food options.

The emergence of yogurt and Greek yogurt dips and dressings in recent years is one example. Many brands, including Marie’s and Bolthouse Farms, have developed yogurt dips and dressings. The Heluva Good line, from HP Hood, in Lynnfield, Mass., recently rolled out Greek Style Yogurt Dips in French Onion, Herb Ranch, Southwestern Chipotle and Fire Roasted Vegetable varieties.

Litehouse Foods, based in Sandpoint, Idaho, has unveiled Opadipity Greek Yogurt Dips, available in sweet flavors of Creamy Cheesecake, Strawberry Delight and Vanilla Almond, and savory flavors of Creamy Ranch, Chipotle Ranch, Cucumber Dill and Spinach Parmesan. “Opadipity is right in line with several trends — consumers are seeking Greek yogurt and products that include it as an ingredient; they are snacking at a higher rate than ever before and are looking for healthier options,” says Jake Oliver, assistant brand manager.

In addition to yogurt and Greek yogurt, other healthy attributes are evident in dips and dressings, from lower-fat and -calorie options, to the inclusion of beneficial ingredients like antioxidant-rich fruits, to the launch of organic products.

Makoto’s Blyer, for his part, says that a knowledgeable shopping base is now making its demands known. “I believe that consumers are making healthy choices when choosing a variety,” he observes. “The consumer’s knowledge of the health benefits of ginger has grown rapidly.”

Sizing up the Market

As with other food categories, form follows function in refrigerated dips and dressings, especially when it comes to convenience. Responding to lifestyles that include the need for portability and portion control, several manufacturers have added to or changed their products’ packaging formats.

Makoto, for example, complements its 16-ounce and 9-ounce packages with 2-ounce portion-control cups of ginger dressings. For on-the-go consumption, or for those who seek smaller portions for health or lifestyle reasons, T. Marzetti offers cream cheese fruit dips in single-serve cups sold in a 6-pack. Also heeding that trend is the Wholly Guacamole brand from Fresherized Foods, in Saginaw, Texas, which has added 100-calorie Minis packs in five flavors.

Finally, underscoring the need for versatility in today’s marketplace, makers of refrigerated dips and dressings also recognize different uses for their products beyond snacking and salads. “We have come out with new sizes for the consumer who uses our products,” Blyer says, “not only as a dressing, but also as a marinade.”

“Consumers are seeking Greek yogurt and products that include it as an ingredient; they are snacking at a higher rate than ever before and are looking for healthier options.”
—Jake Oliver, Litehouse Foods

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