A World Of Spice

Spices have become a truly global category as manufacturers and retailers take inspiration from the flavors of many cultures.

Anyone what's who up and wants coming to know in the spice and seasoning category should check out McCormick & Co. Inc.'s periodic Flavor Forecasts, which the iconic Sparks, Md.-based purveyor has been offering since 2000. The latest report, released in January, takes an unprecedented international view.

"The Flavor Forecast pinpoints the top trends and flavors that are driving a spirit of discovery around the world — from cuisines on the verge of widespread appeal to ingredients with the potential to alter the culinary landscape several years from now," explains Laurie Harrsen, McCormick's director, consumer communications and PR.

"Americans approach eating with greater curiosity than ever before and really celebrate the enjoyment of it," she adds. "Discovering new flavors from around the world is a big part of this curiosity."

Among the taste experiences the company has singled out for notice are barbecue with a global twist — think Hispanic or Korean — lemon as the ultimate refresher; clear, unpretentious flavor combinations such as ginger with coconut or vanilla with butter; and trading in salt and fat for spices and herbs vibrant enough perk up a dish on their own.

McCormick isn't content just to report on trends, however: The company "continues to make innovation a priority, and is launching 37 new products in the spice category in 2012 based on latest trends and consumer insights," notes Harrsen.

Among these new products, which represent a veritable United Nations of flavors, are line extensions of Perfect Pinch Salt-free Seasonings, including Southwest Sweet 'n Smoky; Gourmet Collection Blends in Cuban, Moroccan, Tuscan and Southwest varieties; and Perfect Pinch Bread Dipping Seasonings in Sicilian Crushed Red Pepper & Garlic and Tuscan Rosemary & Sun-Dried Tomato varieties, as well as the introduction in bilingual packaging of five SKUS of Authentic Mexican Seasoning Mixes. McCormick developed the new Hispanic-focused items in concert with its Mexican division to guarantee traditional flavor.

The company is also rolling out products to meet the needs of grillers; moms on the lookout for convenient meal solutions; consumers in search of premium, all-natural ingredients (which McCormick offers in packages flagged as "all-natural" and sporting clear windows that enable the contents within to be seen); and those doing more of their cooking and baking at home.

For the company's sage ideas on getting the most out of spice and seasoning sales, see the sidebar on page 48.

Rouses Kicks It Up

The growing consumer interest in a world of flavors has been noted at the retail level, too. "Our customers really love their local spices and seasonings, but they're also very adventurous eaters," observes Tim Acosta, director of marketing at Thibodeaux, La.-based Rouses Markets, which operates 37 stores in Louisiana and Mississippi. "We've added new, kicked-up versions of some local favorites, and more restaurant-quality ingredients that customers associate with Rouses. We're also adding a lot of specialty and international spices."

Rouses is also offering new lines of salt-free seasonings, affirms Acosta. "Kosher salt and sea salt are becoming increasingly more popular, and we're moving more and more grind-your-own salt, peppercorns and seasonings." The chain's No. 1 seller in the category — unsurprisingly, given its stores' locations — is Tony Chachere's Creole Seasonings, hailing from Opelousas, La., says Acosta, noting that Rouses' own salt, parsley flakes, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and bay leaves are consistent best-sellers, along with items from the Zatarain's and Chef Paul Prudhomme's lines.

"This is a great category for us because so many people around here love to cook, and recipes are passed down from generation to generation," Acosta says of spices and seasonings. "We also promote different spices, seasonings and flavors in our cooking classes and online recipes, and I think that has encouraged our customers to branch out even more."

Rouses also wisely ties its customer education programs to local foods and food "seasons," such as promoting barbecue rubs when the New Orleans Saints and LSU are playing, and engages in cross-merchandising in the perimeter. "You'll find local seafood boil mixes and seafood seasonings like Slap Ya Mama in our seafood department by the Louisiana crawfish and wild-caught Louisiana shrimp," explains Acosta, adding that plenty of Prudhomme's meat and poultry spices are prominently featured in the stores' butcher shops.

As for emerging trends at retail, Acosta notes that "more rubs and blends are being introduced, people are really customizing what they are using, and there's a definite trend toward fresh seasonings."

The Rise of Natural and Organic

As shown by McCormick's earlier-mentioned attention to consumers who want all-natural products, these types of spices and seasonings are growing increasingly popular.

"When comparing similar spices side by side, consumers really can taste the difference between spices sourced with taste and quality in mind," says Brett Karminski, senior brand manager at Norway, Iowa-based Frontier Natural Co-op, a supplier of natural and organic spices and seasonings, including those sold under the Simply Organic brand. Karminksi also cites taste and convenience as purchase drivers in the overall spice category. Frontier's latest offerings are gourmet salt and pepper grinders, representing a variety of culinary traditions, that allow consumers to "adjust the coarseness of the grind to their individual flavor and texture preferences."

"Simply Organic uses ingredients grown and processed without the use of toxic pesticides, irradiation or genetically engineered products," as well as no containing no sugar, sodium, artificial ingredients, fillers or preservatives, notes senior brand manager Kozy Kazimour. Still, whether shoppers purchase conventionally or organically grown items, Kazimour says they're ultimately seeking "the ability to use spices in various combinations to turn ordinary' ingredients (i.e., chicken, vegetables, rice, etc.) into something extraordinary. It is no longer just chicken, but Mediterranean Chicken or Caribbean Chicken."

Frontier has made a few important discoveries in regard to the merchandising of such products. "Spices are a SKU-intensive and complicated category," admits Karminksi. "We've learned that the most effective spice sets contain the top two or three leading brands and offer consumers options at varying price points and easily defined brand positioning. The key is to organize the set in a way that consumers can quickly understand and shop."

Simply Organic has done just that with its MealSolution Centers: 8- and 24-SKU display racks that conveniently merchandise seasoning packets. "Stores using the displays have seen an average uptick of 58 percent in unit movement pre- and post-display use," observes Kazimour. "Packets were previously located throughout the store, so now with one locale, if you've had a good experience with one, you will try others."

Private Eyes Ethnic

Private label spices have migrated internationally as well, affirms Mick Whitlock, president of Baltimore-based Vanns Spices Ltd.. "Our sales to retailers have increased during the past year because we listen to our customers and are able to supply the unusual and exotic spices and seasonings," notes Whitlock, adding that consumers are increasingly requesting "more unusual spices such as Aleppo pepper, Marash pepper, piment d' espelette and many exotic salts."

The company also recently added four organic varieties to its successful line of spice grinders after noticing "a significant increase in sales of organic spices over the last three years," says Whitlock.

Spiced-up Sales

Veteran spice and seasoning purveyor McCormick & Co. has a few tips for retailers interested in getting adding zest to sales in the category:

Shift from selling ingredients to selling flavor occasions: For example, baking is a flavor occasion, as 50 percent of the population bakes at least once a month and 62 percent of baking occasions are from scratch. Extend shoppers' repertoire and promote baking as an occasion. Focus on occasion-based merchandising and promotions to grow category value — think everyday cooking, baking and grilling.

Bring more excitement to shoppers in-aisle and around the store: Since the average household grills 90 times in one year and 57 percent of grillers look to in-store displays as a source of awareness of grilling seasonings, inspire grillers with new flavors and trends.

Get on the shopping list: This is crucial to influencing the store trip, as 90 percent of shoppers make a list and 70 percent plan weekly meals for the family in advance. Recipes drive purchase intent, so feature a recipe in an ad and on your website to attract list-makers' attention.

Use shopper marketing to drive incremental sales: This will get shoppers to maximize each trip and drive higher basket ring. For example, spending increases by 31 percent when trigger and flavor are purchased together, versus trigger occasion only.

"Our sales to retailers have increased during the past year because we... are able to supply the unusual and exotic spices and seasonings."

—Mick Whitlock, Vanns Spices Ltd.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds