Consumers know such familiar phrases as “time in a bottle” and a “message in a bottle.” But, how about “adventure in a bottle?” More supermarket shoppers are finding flavor and appetite adventure in bottles of new dressings, sauces and spreads.

Mintel Group Ltd. says the cooking sauces, marinades and dressings market exhibited steady growth from 2008-2013, with dollar sales increasing 3.5% in 2011, 5.1% in 2012 and 2.9% in 2013. Specifically, researchers say the category posted $7.4 billion in sales in 2013. Broken down, Mintel finds dry sauces leading -- with an estimated $3.2 billion in 2013 sales -- while dressings sold $2.6 billion, and liquid sauces posted $1.6 billion. Officials predict the overall category will grow to $9.1 billion by 2018.

“The post-recession climate has many Americans still weathering weak spending power, shaky consumer confidence, and unemployment or under-employment,” notes Mintel. “Such conditions limit the ability of these types of consumers to spend on dining out, forcing many back into the kitchen to save money, which has benefited the market, because consumers are looking for products that help them prepare home-cooked meals.”

Putting those sentiments in more “foodie” terms is Kraft Foods’ Barry Calpino, vice president of Breakthrough Innovation. Last year saw Kraft introduce more than 40 new products, including rubs, dressings, dips and sauces. When Kraft announced its new product blitz, Caplino noted that bold flavor adventure was the underlying theme.

“Bland and boring do not cut it anymore,” he said. “We’re seeing an all-out quest for fun, passion and adventure in food and beverages, as people embrace a multitude of global and regional flavors. Culinary experimentation is ‘in,’ so everyone wants the flexibility to customize their food.”


Hot Stuff

Talk about hot trends. Having already emerged in 2013, sriracha -- a fiery Thai chili sauce -- blazed its way into this year and was named one of top five food trends at January 2014’s Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. There were sriracha-flavored popcorns, snack chips and other items -- including a sweet spread, Not Just Peachy Sriracha Jam (from The Jam Stand); and an organic sriracha hummus (Hope Foods).

“These trends capture the creativity of specialty food producers and the care they put into crafting exciting taste experiences, whether they are reinventing familiar products with unexpected flavors or opening an audience to lesser-known ingredients,” says Denise Purcell, the Specialty Food Association’s senior director of content.

Interestingly enough, Mintel notes that -- of the three related categories -- liquid sauces experienced highest retail dollar sales growth (11.7%) from 2011-2013 (see chart “On the Sauce”). Moreover, consumers’ growing interest in added heat has the attention of liquid sauce processors.

One of those is TW Garner Food Company, maker of Texas Pete hot sauces. This Winston-Salem, N.C., company entered 2014 with a new entry: CHA! by Texas Pete.

“CHA! by Texas Pete is a unique, almost addictive flavor that I think we’re going to see a lot of home chefs embracing in 2014,” says Michael O’Donnell, TW Garner’s corporate executive chef. “Sriracha is a staple in most professional kitchens and quickly is becoming a go-to ingredient for home cooks, as well.”

Pardon the play on words, but hot sauce competition is heating up from coast to coast. From the West Coast, for example, come more entries from California’s Humboldt Hotsauce, in McKinleyville; and Bah Hot Sauce, Menlo Park.

Entering 2014, Humboldt said it wants to expand eastward with its Caribbean-inspired sauces. Officials say the Emerald (lime, cilantro, ginger) Habanero-Mango and Island Style flavors emphasize fruity and fresh notes. For their part, Bah-BAH founders Bobby and Shima Marhamat say their unique, all-natural hot sauce emphasizes pomegranate.

Bigger companies also are kicking up the heat. Among Kraft’s many 2013 entries were A.1. dry rubs and A.1. marinade mixes with fiery notes of Chipotle BBQ, Tomato & Chili Pepper and Cracked Peppercorn. Elsewhere, Kraft’s Anything Dressings line added a citrus twist, with Zesty Lime Vinaigrette (also billed as a meats and seafood marinade). Interestingly, Miracle Whip expanded into dipping sauces, (limited distribution) with flavors including Smokin’ Bacon Ranch, Kickin’ Onion Blossom and Sassy Sweet Tomato. Meanwhile, Kraft went nationwide with two new flavored, reduced-fat Kraft Mayo offerings: Ranch and Bacon.


New Directions

Many more processors are adding flavor with new, convenient and unexpected twists.

Want to step outside? Reckitt-Benckiser LLC says it made backyard grilling easier (no mess, no waste) with French’s Flavor Infuser marinades, a line of single-use marinades for chicken, steak, pork or fish. It’s easy for consumers to apply an attached “infuser tip” on French’s 3.5oz, shelf-stable squeeze tube. Then, they simply follow injection instructions and let the meat stand for 10 minutes before cooking. Marinade varieties include Caribbean Jerk, Classic Steakhouse, Sweet & Tangy Teriyaki and Zesty Italian.

Back in the kitchen, Campbell Soup targets meals prepared on the stovetop -- and the countertop. Officials say more than 80% of U.S. households own a slow-cooker, and these help prepare nearly 500 million meals a year. Eyeing those occasions, the company developed Campbell’s Slow Cooker Sauces and is promoting them with Jarden Corp.’s popular Crock-Pot brand. Campbell’s new, six-item line (in pouches) includes Apple Bourbon Barbecue and Tavern Style Pot Roast varieties.

Officials say Campbell’s Slow Cooker Sauces build on the introduction of Campbell’s Skillet Sauces, which will expand during fiscal 2014 with two new varieties: Creamy Parmesan Chicken and Sweet & Sour Chicken.

“Together, these innovative products are enabling Campbell to tap into the nearly $200 billion dinner segment with consumer propositions that are unique, delicious and convenient,” notes Mark Alexander, president-Campbell North America.

There’s even more saucy skillet competition coming from the dairy case. Having successfully launched its Sauté Express Sauté Starters line in late 2012, Land O’Lakes Inc. returned last year with another variety: Teriyaki. Officials describe Sauté Express Sauté Starters as an “all-in-one combination of seasoned butter and spices that cook and flavor any vegetable or protein -- such as chicken, pork, shrimp or tofu -- in one easy step.”

“Consumers have been telling us they want more Asian flavors. I’m so excited to share Teriyaki Sauté Express Sauté Starter—and all the new recipes we have developed,” says Becky Wahlund, director of the Test Kitchen at Land O’Lakes. “It’s satisfying to unwrap one square and watch it sizzle and bubble in the pan. When I’m craving a stir-fry, I know that I’ve got all the flavor I need in one little square, without any extra measuring or prep work.”

Teryaki joins four other Sauté Express Sauté Starter flavors: Garlic & Herb, Italian Herb, Lemon Pepper and Savory Butter & Olive Oil. Refrigerated, 1oz squares come in easy-to-use, pre-measured portions for toss-in-the-pan convenience.

Ready for another interesting twist? The Clorox Company is doing more to ensure that its Hidden Valley brand -- isn’t quite as hard to find.

“The delicious taste of Hidden Valley isn’t just for salads anymore,” says Clorox. “Now you can create craveable sandwiches with new Hidden Valley Sandwich Spreads & Dips. The mouth-watering possibilities are practically endless, so grab your favorite sandwich fixings and start spreading the yum.”

New Hidden Valley Sandwich Spreads & Dips come in 12oz jars and four varieties: Spicy Chipotle Pepper, Oven Roasted Garlic Parmesan, Smoked Bacon Ranch and Country Herb Ranch.


All Dressed Up

Back in the salad dressing aisle, processors also are talking about on-trend flavors, convenience, versatility and health.

For the record, industry experts -- members of The Association for Dressings & Sauces -- named their 2013 “Dressing of the Year” and “Sauce of the Year” honorees. A leading private label supplier, Bay Valley Foods, won the dressing award for a Three Peppercorn Asiago. Meanwhile, Litehouse Foods Inc. earned sauce honors for its Sweet Onion with Dijon Dressing & Marinade.

“This product was developed in response to recent market research and growing trends,” said Doug Hawkins, senior business development manager. “The great thing about this sauce is it is extremely versatile and can be used as a dip, as well as a dressing. Today’s consumers are seeking flavorful, healthy food options. The Sweet Onion with Dijon Dressing & Marinade is a low-calorie sauce that still delivers a lot of taste.”

Of course it doesn’t take a beacon to see on-trend supermarket tastes. That led Litehouse developers to create and launch OPA! by Litehouse Greek Style Yogurt Dressing in four, 11oz glass jar varieties: Blue Cheese, Ranch, Caesar and Feta Dill.

“… Consumers love the fact that it offers a low-calorie, high-protein dressing option and still delivers a great taste, perfect for the health-conscious consumer,” says Hawkins. “We also found that consumers prefer a glass bottle, which conveys premium and highest quality.  When tested independently against competitive full-fat/full-calorie regular products, OPA by Litehouse Greek Style Yogurt Dressing scored significantly higher. This is a big deal.”

More processors also are targeting better-for-you formulations.

Last fall saw another refrigerated category leader, T. Marzetti Company, bolster its popular Marzetti Simply Dressed line with a new, sleeker plastic bottle and six more varieties. As the name implies, product developers use a minimal number of simple, consumer-friendly ingredients, such as yogurt, extra virgin olive oil, canola oil (source of omega-3 ALA) and sea salt.

New flavor options include Lemon, Cherry Balsamic, Light Balsamic (yogurt-based balsamic vinaigrette), Light Roasted Tomato, Light Red Wine Italian and a Light Veggie Ranch. All Simply Dressed flavors are free of preservatives, trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), added MSG, artificial flavors and colors.

Another newcomer takes an entirely different approach to nutrition -- and even salad dressing itself. Last April, Serendipity Foods unveiled what it called “the next generation” of salad dressings and dips. The product features novel formulation and packaging, and a delivery mechanism that aerates its dressings and dips as they are released.

Entrepreneur founder Jimmy Lee says Serendipity is made with real dressing and has just 15 calories per serving. Lee reached out to celebrity chef David Burke, who joined as chief culinary advisor and helped develop six flavors: Blue Cheese, Honey French, Caesar, Ranch, Creamy Italian and Thousand Island. Officials say Serendipity has 90% fewer calories, carbs, sugar, fat and sodium than other leading dressings and has no trans fat, artificial colors/sweeteners or cholesterol, and also contains no HFCS. It is available in Blue Cheese, Ranch, Caesar, Thousand Island and Creamy Italian.

“After talking to Jimmy about Serendipity, exploring the product and tasting the different flavors, I immediately became a Serendipity fan,” said Burke. “I truly feel that this product will be a real game-changer for consumers because, while it maintains a position of being low calorie, it does not do so at the expense of great flavor; my fundamental reason for getting on board.”