A Matter Of Taste


Upscale private label and branded offerings alike tempt consumers' palates.

When it comes to adding flavor to life, grocers and manufacturers are betting that shoppers will still gravitate toward gourmet items as part of the “affordable luxury” mindset that took hold when the Great Recession hit, and is still in force among many as the economy continues to dig itself out of a deep hole. This mindset, often applied to such products as fine chocolates and high-end steaks, could also apply to condiments, grocers and manufacturers reason, especially with the documented increase in at-home dining and, consequently, more home-cooked meals.

To that end, in the first week of November 2010, the Montvale, N.J.-based Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. introduced a line of global gourmet foodstuffs under The Food Emporium Trading Co. brand. Although named for A&P's gourmet food chain, the private label line, which senior director public relations & corporate social responsibility Lauren La Bruno describes as an “expansive collection of international specialties, including culinary garnishes, snacks and sauces,” is carried in the company's A&P, Waldbaum's and Super-Fresh stores as well. Among the condiments the product line offers are ketchup, mustard, olive oil, maple syrup and salsa.

“We really searched for the best gourmet food around the world, to bring it right to our customers' tables,” notes The Food Emporium general manager Hans Heer. “These products are not only authentic, but also provide an exceptional value!” La Bruno points out, “Pricing varies based on the products ... however, this brand is very competitive on these specialty items.”

Saucy Sales in Trying Times

Given all of this retailer and consumer interest, it comes as no surprise that the branded and private label products manufactured by Pendleton, Ore.based Barhyte Specialty Foods have been selling well. According to Chris Barhyte, the family-owned company's VP of marketing: “Sales are up for us this year, probably because we've come out with innovative products, but have also stayed true to what we do, and we are committed to doing it well. We were on stable footing to make it through these trying times, and continue to grow.” The most recent of these innovative products, introduced in December and this month under the Saucy Mama brand, are Sweet Heat Marinade, Santa Fe Creamy Chipotle Dressing, Pacific Rim Ginger Dressing, Tarragon Meyer Lemon Mustard and Apricot Ginger Mustard.

Through monitoring the media, recipes, and store-level buying patterns, Barhyte has noticed some prevailing trends relating to consumer tastes in condiments: “People are using a lot more fruit items — superfruits, pomegranate, blueberries and raspberries [W]e know this is something

that consumers are craving. We're also seeing more use of heat — but as a flavor enhancer rather than something that brings on the sweat. This year, we're bringing heat to consumers who in the past have been intimidated by it, by pairing it with other flavors. Our Saucy Mama Sweet Heat Marinade is probably more tangy than it is spicy; it doesn't overwhelm because it complements the sweetness. The Saucy Mama Santa Fe Creamy Chipotle once again introduces a mild spice, but ensures that it's flavorful without being painful by pairing it with the creamy base."

With upscale condiments in particular, presentation is just as important as the flavor and ingredients. “We're seeing high-end

buyers going back to more high-end packaging such as glass,” observes Barhyte. “It seems retailers are trying to separate themselves by offering higher-end items. We're looking at it not as a commodity, but something value-added for the shopper. There's a much greater presence of upscale private label and branded products. You'd have thought this would have been more prevalent four years ago [i.e., during a time of relative economic prosperity], but it's happening with tremendous consistency


The main reason for this move on the part of retailers is that more shoppers are staying in for dinner, he affirms. “I think chains and stores are trying to differentiate themselves,” notes Barhyte. “Before, they were trying to streamline their mixes. The dollars have shifted from dining out to eating in, and instead of having ready-to-eat items, people [are] buying the ingredients and using better-quality prepared products to finish their dish.”

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