By Treena Hein
“Consumers want to enjoy restaurant gourmet without spending a fortune, but many people are too busy to cook from scratch,” says Jean Shieh, marketing manager at Sensient Natural Ingredients. For the typical person, Shieh believes sauces represent “foolproof” cooking tools that provide the fun of cooking with ease. “Think of premium ethnic sauce mixes or spice blends that consumers simply add to organic chicken broth or coconut milk and heat up on the stove,” she says. “Then they throw in some fresh vegetables and tofu – an authentic dish is done in 10 minutes.”
In Shieh’s view, the percentage of consumers who now enjoy cooking experiences with products like sauces and marinades is quite large. And the creativity and novelty aspects are key, notes Beatriz de Llano. “Ethnic and exotic sauces fuel demand as consumers experiment with new tastes and flavours outside of staple condiments,” says the Canadian market research analyst for Euromonitor International. “Sauce consumption is slowly shifting away from staple condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauces…A lot of cooking sauces within the Indian cuisine range, other than the popular curry cooking sauce, are in demand on a larger scale, like butter chicken sauce.”
While consumers of all ages are interested in the way sauces, marinades and dressings bring the world into their kitchens, Shieh notes that retirees in particular are turning to them in droves. This demographic generally has more time on its hands and can experiment, she explains. The other group most interested in ready-to-use or quick-to-prepare sauces is younger consumers, so much so that they are driving new openings in the category. Millennials (those 18 to 35) want higher-end products and shy away from low-cost sauces, Shieh says, since for millennials, the low price point and long shelf life correlate with preservatives, additives and low-quality ingredients.
Kathy Murphy, communications lead at Kraft-Heinz Canada, agrees. “With the rise in millennial purchasing power and their taste for more international dishes and spices, we’re finding ways to reinvent beloved everyday condiments to capture the growth of these relevant flavour trends,” she observes. The company’s Classico and Diana sauces are an example of this, and will continue to offer new ways to bring together real ingredients to enhance any meat or pasta-based dish, Murphy says, “without the guesswork.”
And spiciness, to put it simply, is hot. There are over 2,000 chili pepper varieties grown around the world, and Shieh notes that more and more of them are being used to give products a distinctive flair. “For example, the red-brown colour, earthy-nutty flavour, and medium heat of Devanur Chili is perfect for marinades,” she explains. “The bold colour, a pungent-sweet flavour and mild heat of Byadgi Chili gives dressings a hint of heat; Teja Chili packs serious heat, and its orange-red colour and sharp flavor, along with a rich, smoky-sweet undertone, makes it ideal for sauces.” Sensient Natural Ingredients has therefore continued to expand its collection of chili blends, which include Moroccan Harissa, Korean Gochujang, and Sichuan Hot Pot. “These regional chili blends bring authentic ethnic flavour profiles to product developers,” Shieh says, “and provide a simple starting point for ethnic sauces.”
Indeed, chilies were a featured trend in the McCormick 2014 Flavour Forecast. “Beyond just discovering new chili varieties, this obsession [for consumers] has extended into using techniques like grilling, smoking, pickling, fermenting and candying to tease out their full flavour potential,” notes McCormick Canada’s Marketing vice-president Dina Clark. “We’re definitely seeing Canadians embrace this growing trend, and we’re excited to expand our heat-inspired flavours this year with products such as Demi-Glace Gravy Mix with Club House La Grille Spicy Pepper Medley.” Mexican flavours were another key trend in the McCormick 2014 Flavour Forecast. “Canadians are embracing authentic elements of this bright, bold and casual cuisine,” Clark explains, “which is reflected in a variety of our new Skillet Sauce flavours that launched earlier this year, such as Taco with Chipotle, Fajita with Roasted Chili and Chili with Roasted Garlic.”
Euromonitor predicts that retail sales of spicy sauces will be by 6 per cent higher this year over 2014. “One of the fastest-growing products is the sriracha sauce, a spicy chili sauce, which gained its popularity with the rise of Asian restaurants in Canada,” de Llano notes. “Its growth in Canada has been very strong and, from a retail perspective, as it is not regarded as an ethnic type of product anymore. The product’s versatility has created a cross-functionality for this sauce.”
Chilies are among the many ingredients being lent a smoky flavour in sauces and such these days – but what is being smoked doesn’t stop there. The McCormick 2015 Flavour Forecast predicts the continued rise of smoked spices such as peppercorns and sea salt, which Clark says adds another dimension to meals. “These deep and rich flavours and subtle smoky notes are reflected in a number of our products offerings,” she notes, “including the new Club House Gravy Mix for Pork with La Grille Smouldering Smoked Applewood and new Club House Smoky Bourbon BBQ Pulled Pork Slow Cooker Sauce.”
Besides smoked chilies and spices, look out for smoked olive oil and smoked caramel. Sensient Natural Ingredients just launched a line of gently smoked vegetables and chili, including onion and bell peppers.
Outlook is healthy
Along with a desire for new flavours and heat, consumers also want their sauces, dressings and marinades to come without tons of calories and fat. Kraft-Heinz has introduced more Calorie-Wise and Low Fat dressings over the years, in addition to low-sugar and low-sodium ketchup. “We’ve also taken steps to reduce sodium in many of our other products – including a 20-per-cent reduction in our Kraft salad dressings,” Murphy notes.
Canada’s Dempsey Corporation consulted its supplier and partner IDF (International Dehydrated Foods), where staff report global hype around using chicken schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) as a replacement for mayonnaise. IDF notes that it’s a healthier alternative, easily spreadable, and nicely takes on flavours of other ingredients mixed with it. Some reports state that schmaltz has less trans fat than margarine and more omega-3 fatty acids than most vegetable oils.
While soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and fish sauce are all famous for their “umami tastes” and use in many savoury applications, Shieh notes that baby boomer, Gen X and millennial consumers want umami taste with clean label ingredients. This summer at the IFT15 Expo in Chicago, Sensient Natural Ingredients introduced Umami Natural, a blend of all-natural vegetable powders with no artificial ingredients or additives that can be used in many items from Ranch dressing to pasta sauce to baked goods. Shieh adds that they hope it will be used widely in clean ingredient dry sauce mixes and spice blends in the future. “With consumers seeking bold flavors in sauces and marinades, umami has returned to centre stage,” she notes.
This article appeared in the print issue:December 2015 edition, Food Trends section