sauces, marinades, vegetables

Doug Muir is married to a professionally trained chef--a woman who can make truffles as deftly as she can roast a pork tenderloin. And yet, in his family, Muir, the 41-year-old, Denver-based hospital administrator, is the one who mans the grill.

After a long phone conversation with Muir, it quickly became apparent that he embodies the modern sauce and marinade consumer. Regardless of the weather, Muir stands over his gas grill, searing steaks, chicken breasts and more. "I'm not an expert," he says, "I don't make my own sauces, but I watch Bobby Flay, and I have my tried-and-true sauces that I go to."

Another avid user of sauces is Liz Seelye, a 30-year-old consultant. Seelye and her husband are well-traveled, young professionalsóand, they seem to use a different breed of sauces than those of Muir and his culinary-savvy wife. Indeed, Seelye makes much use of ethnic sauces from India and Thailand. "I'll make my own sauces from the countries where we've traveled, like chimichurri from Argentina," says Seelye. But, she admits she does not know how to make sauces from Asia, which she has rarely visited; when she wants Asian sauces, she turns to packaged ones. 

For a marinade user's perspective, Cody Cooper, a 32-year-old account manager for the Sterling-Rice Group, a Colorado-based strategy firm, provided some insight. In the last year, Cooper and her husband have been using bottled marinades, and it has changed the way she eats. Each night, she pulls a different marinade off the shelf to season her chicken. "We used to eat the same stuff every day," she remembers. "Now, we do so much more exploring." Cooper is yet another kind of sauce and marinade user.

So, within minutes, one can find several types of marinade and sauce users, all with very different kitchen agendas. There are consumers concerned with culinary flavors, others focused on health and still others on variety and discovery. Are marinade and sauce producers aware of how diverse their consumers really are?

From the Producers

Rick Gray, senior brand manager of Heinz 57 Sauce and Lea & Perrins, is aware of this diversity. Today, sauce users are more open to bold flavors than they have ever been. More of them, with an eye toward well-being, are paying attention to sauce and marinade ingredients.

Gray believes food revolution gurus, like Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver, have influenced this new attention toward health. And, he has noticed some of his consumers have begun to limit their consumption of high-fructose corn syrup. Similarly, Gray has observed that television programs, like those played on the Food Network and Travel Channel, have opened his customers to more flavors. No longer are his sauce and marinade users simply meat-and-potato diners. In some cases, his consumers have even started to make restaurant-style meals and ethnic foods in their homes. 

This is a tendency U.S. culinary ambassador and master chef Victor Matthews has also seen. Chef Matthews acknowledges home cooks are increasingly looking for ways to bring the restaurant experience to their own cooking. Today's diners, he explains, have been out to eat a lot. They have experienced chefs pushing the boundaries on flavors and technique, and, in turn, they want to expand the foods and flavors they eat at home.

Luckily, there are more sauce and marinade options than ever before to help them do that. In 2010 alone, 1,778 new sauces and seasonings made their way to store shelves, and the market continues to grow. Sauces and marinade sales are expected to reach $4.3 billion in 2012, up from $3.3 billion in 2007. These choices, Gray surmises, can be overwhelming for consumers, however. Do they pick the sauce or marinade bottle on the top shelf, on the bottom shelf or somewhere in between?

Today's Market

Usually, consumers like Muir, Seelye and Cooper stick to the sauces and marinades they know. Muir turns to award-winning sauces, like Sweet Baby Ray's. Seelye usually uses Patak's Indian sauces or Religious Experience's Mexican one. And, Cooper uses Lawry's, a highly popular marinade. But, that does not mean these or other consumers are completely satisfied with the options currently on the market.

As a matter of fact, each of these consumers wishes there were more flavorful sauces and marinades out there. Plus, they want more diversity of flavor in the whole category. Muir, specifically, wishes today's sauces were not so "tame or sweet." Some brands, he claims, lack flavor. Cooper tends to agree and would like to see more vivid flavors, or flavors that are easier to use within a range of products. "They've made it so easy," she says, "to season chicken out of a bottle. I just wish it were as simple to marinade steak or salmon."

The market has begun to respond to this kind of consumer grumbling. Gray, for example, who is well aware of these consumer concerns, has led a couple of new product  projects for Lea & Perrins. In January, he launched a version of Lea & Perrins that harkens back to the original recipe and uses sugar as its primary sweetener. Similarly, he has helped create the brand's Thick Classic sauce, a version of Worcestershire sauce that is dense enough to use as a dipping or topping sauce.

While Gray has been adapting his core product, other food companies have invented new products altogether. Kraft, for example, launched its Bull's-Eye regional barbecue flavors--and in doing so, expanded the flavor profiles of available barbecue sauces. This line brings to life the tastes of Texas, Kansas City, Carolina and Memphis barbecue. Other, smaller brands have been more focused on putting Asian and Mexican flavors on store shelves. Patak's, Thai Taste and Religious Experience have made richly flavorful Indian, Thai and Mexican sauces and marinades more available.

Tomorrow's Market

But, there is plenty of room for the market to keep developing. For example, Seelye certainly does not have access to all the international sauces she wants. And, Muir would most likely be open to trying more than one kind of regional barbecue sauce--probably a celebrity chef's version.

Even food professionals see much opportunity within the sauce and marinade category. Al Banisch, who formerly worked in marketing for Heinz condiments and is now partner at Sterling-Rice Group, acknowledges that, for most consumers, sauces and marinades are a low-cost, low-risk investment. So, they are willing to purchase them, even with recession-conscious budgets.

Within sauces and marinades, Banisch sees two areas that are ripe for development--and both build off consumers' desire to explore. "You see a lot more people using sauces like sriracha and eating dishes like Indian curry," he says, "And, you see more familiar flavors and sauces expanding their usage. You can find Buffalo wing sauce in so many different foods now. It used to be for wings only. Now, it's even used for pizza." A sauce and marinade brand, big or small, Banisch says, would find an eager consumer, if it were to bring more of these flavors and expanded usages to the market.

Chef Matthews agrees; he especially encourages sauce and marinade producers to think about form. Like Banisch, Matthews sees more consumers exploring how they are adding flavor to their dishes. In parts of a meal where sauces and marinades used to be the only way chefs or home cooks considered imparting flavor on a dish, they are now thinking about wet rubs, dry rubs and more. And, given how chefs and home cooks are more conscious of layering flavor in their cooking, Matthews thinks there is great opportunity for sauce and marinade companies to create pairings products. "Why couldn't you have, say, a red wine marinade," he asked, "and sell that with a cracked black pepper rub?"

From a technical standpoint, there is no reason sauce and marinade producers cannot, assures Nick Spinelli, Kraft Foods executive chef. Today, culinary experts, like Spinelli and the ones behind Kraft's new Bull's-Eye barbecue sauces, have a great ability to break down the culinary processes and flavors. Spinelli acknowledges this makes it easy to consistently mass-produce the kinds of flavors that Banisch and Matthews are talking about. As a matter of fact, in its study of world cuisine, the Kraft culinary team has even pushed itself to break down the tastes of authentic and unfamiliar Eastern Indian and Mexican dishes, like Raj Mah and habichuelas. Although these flavors may never make it to product form, deconstructing them helps the Kraft team understand the nuances of the kidney bean-based meals and their warm spices, like cloves and coriander.

That news should let consumers who use marinades breathe easily. The flavors they love are possible--and sauce and marinade companies are already considering how to provide them. In the next few years, avid sauce and marinade users should be walking out of the supermarket with just the products of which they have always

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