Some Like It Hot

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Some Like It Hot

By Bridget Goldschmidt, EnsembleIQ - 06/01/2012

Pepped-up condiments are encouraging more experimentation and purchases among consumers.

Summer, with its warmer weather, is the traditional time when condiment sales rise as a result of consumers' increased grilling, picnicking and outdoor entertaining habits.

To add some additional kick to the category, Wegmans Food Markets' summer prize freeze on its most popular items, which runs through Aug. 25, includes such deals as a 40-ounce private-brand ketchup for $1.59 and a 30-ounce house-brand mayo for $2.49, while Walmart Canada has bowed a new Our Finest Barbecue product line featuring such seasonal essentials as ketchup and barbecue sauce.

Beyond the basics, however, retail trading partners are growing more creative when it comes to condiment offerings, hoping to further tempt the taste buds of shoppers already primed by TV cooking shows featuring zesty ingredients, and their out-of-home exposure to the complex flavors of various ethnic cuisines, with better-known brands leading the charge.

For instance, Pittsburgh-based Heinz Co. has launched Tomato Ketchup Blended with Balsamic Vinegar, once a limited-edition product, as a permanent part of its ketchup lineup. "People told us they loved the familiar yet exciting taste and enjoy it as a key ingredient in favorite recipes and as a flavor-booster on mealtime foods, such as chicken, pork and steak, to create a more sophisticated, robust taste," notes Heinz senior brand manager Eric Dahmer.

In its first cross-brand product partnership, Hellmann's has brought out the limited-edition flavor Hellmann's Spicy Buffalo with Frank's RedHot, which combines the creaminess of mayo with Frank's authentically bold Buffalo sauce in a convenient 9-ounce squeeze bottle. "The Hellmann's Limited Edition line was developed to offer families the flavor variety and convenience they're seeking to spice up their everyday dishes, while still maintaining the same great taste of Hellmann's Mayonnaise," explains Ben Crook, senior brand manager at Hellman's, a brand of Englewood, Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever. "Mayo lovers will be able to purchase a new flavor creation from us every six months." Frank's RedHot is a brand of Parsippany, N.J.-based Reckitt Benckiser.

And French's Mustard, also from Reckitt Benckiser, has teamed up with Sheboygan Falls, Wis.-based Johnsonville Sausage on Johnsonville's 2012 "Big Taste Grill" tour, which this year features a French's Mustard bar offering bratwurst lovers a wide selection, including Classic Yellow, Spicy Brown, Horseradish, Honey and the brand's newest variety, Dijon Mustard made with Chardonnay Wine.

Consumer Influences

"Consumers are influenced in so many ways now," acknowledges Lisa A. Kartzman, director of public relations and strategic projects at New York-based American Roland Food Corp., which makes a broad variety of specialty products, including condiments. "The Food Network, digital publications, social media and online promotions have replaced the traditional media for communication. Condiments have always been flavor enhancers. The newest flavors are sriracha [a type of Thai hot sauce], flavored pestos, pepper spreads, Thai sweet chili sauce, and even tahini has taken on a more popular role. In terms of health and wellness, the name of the game is 'natural' and keeping the ingredients list short and clean. Packaging for consumers [focuses on] ease of use, like squeeze bottles and jars."

As far as what items are trending right now, Kartzman believes that "hot sauces in general are, well, hot. Asian has become mainstream, but let's keep in mind that Asian' encompasses India and its flavors. There is also a crossover from Asian into Africa and its use of condiments, in particular spice- and heat-based condiments." She offers the following as a winning in-store strategy: merchandising Asian-inspired hot sauces with other hot sauces rather than within the Asian food section, and placing Dijon mustards alongside seafood.

You Go, Grill

With grilling season now upon us, manufacturers of barbecue sauces are jockeying for position — and profits. Weber Sauces and Seasonings, made by Memphis, Tenn.-based ACH Food Cos., hopes to win the race with a new line of products trading on its famous name, which conveys near-legendary expertise through a popular line of grills.

In April, the brand introduced Just Add Juice dry marinade mix and an all-natural barbecue sauce. The marinade mixes are the first to be specially blended to combine with juice, rather than oil, for a fresh, juicy flavor, according to Weber. Retailing for a suggested $1.29 per 1.12-ounce packet, the product is available in Lemon Pepper, Garlic & Herb, Original BBQ, Teriyaki, Citrus Herb and Caribbean Jerk varieties. Featuring molasses as its base, the barbecue sauce comes in Weber Original, Buzz'N Honey, Hickory Smoke and Kick'N Spicy flavors, and retails for $2.99 to $3.49 per 18-ounce bottle.

A recently launched Facebook coupon promotion to support the products gives the first 10,000 fans to request a sample a free Just Add Juice marinade mix packet and a coupon to buy the barbecue sauce at a store. Additionally, a Facebook contest running the duration of the summer invites fans to submit a grilling tip through the company's app. Weber will pick five top tips each week, with the best tip out of those five earning its submitter a Weber Smokey Joe grill. At the end of the summer, when all of the tips are in, fans get to vote on their top five tips, and those winners will each receive a Weber Genesis grill.

Will the use of condiments with strong, often ethnic-inspired flavors progress to the point that spreading Indian sauces like tikka masala on sandwiches will become almost commonplace in the near future, as Roland's Kartzman suggests? The chances seem better now than ever before. PG

"There is a crossover from Asian into Africa and its use of condiments, in particular spice- and heat-based condiments."

—Lisa A. Kartzman, American Roland Food Corp.