Sauces, dressings and marinades may not be the most exciting product categories in the food industry, but they collectively speak volumes about changing tastes; the continued evolution of the American diet; and consumers’ efforts to save time and money.


The year 2014’s new sauces, dressings and marinades reflect growing interest in simple meal solutions. But product launch activity also reflects a rebounding economy, with ingredients like truffles and specialty mushrooms becoming a more common sight in mainstream offerings.

Innovation in simple meals, while not brand new, continued to drive launch activity, as the focus on home cooking and home meal preparation that intensified after the Great Recession of 2008 shows no sign of abating.


In fact, the latest statistics on home cooking are bullish for packaged food makers and bearish for restaurants. According to the Chicago-based NPD Group, the number of meals Americans bought at restaurants recently dipped to its lowest level since 1993.  Americans purchased 191 meals per person for the year ended August 2014 and now get eight of every 10 meals from home. 

This is not to say that more consumers are slaving over a hot stove—because they are not. Meals are becoming more snack-like, and consumers are cutting more corners in the kitchen. Sauce makers have been happy to oblige with new cooking sauces for home meals with just a handful of ingredients.

Indeed, 2014 was a big year for new cooking sauces, such as Campbell Soup Company’s new Oven Sauces. An extension of its Campbell’s Skillet and Slow Cooker lines, the new Oven Sauces require just five minutes of preparation time and three or fewer ingredients. All three lines are intended to be merchandised together as a “destination,” and Campbell estimates this strategy has persuaded a majority of retailers to give it an extra 4ft section in stores. This added space bodes well for the cooking sauce concept.


Also new in 2014 was Campbell’s Soups for Easy Cooking, a line of “soups” (like Savory Portobello Mushroom) promoted as a “secret weapon for today’s busy parents.”  Packaged in aseptic cartons, the line illustrates the blurring line between soups and sauces.


Freezercase space also is opening up to accommodate cooking sauces. While this is not the first place one might look for cooking sauce inspiration, it did attract big-brand attention from the likes of General Mills’ Progresso brand. Progresso Create a Meal! Sauce went from “freezer to table in 30 minutes or less,” in flavors like Creamy Parmesan, Italian Herb and Teriyaki Stir-Fry. The sauce is promoted as part one of a four-part meal, with vegetable, starch and protein ingredients representing the three other meal components.


Walmart also was on board with new frozen Pop & Cook Sauce in flavors such as Pink Vodka and Tikka Masala. Inspired by frozen herb cubes, Pop & Cook comes in a tray sectioned into four strips; the consumer pops out a single strip, as needed per meal, which is attractive for small and single-person households that want to cut down on waste.


Broth was an unlikely hot spot in 2014, as broth makers were inspired by restaurant trends. Ethnic flavor trends inspired Campbell Soup’s Swanson Flavor Infused Broth in flavors like Mexican Tortilla and Thai Ginger. Swanson Cream Starter Cream Based Broth was also new, in 25% Reduced Fat and Traditional varieties for restaurant-inspired cream soups, entrées and sauces at home. 


Consumers are open to step-saving meal starters, since home meal preparation may be up but scratch cooking is not. Just 10% of American consumers say they cook an evening meal “from scratch” on a daily basis, according to Datamonitor Consumer’s 2014 global consumer survey.  

Kitchen Accomplice Reduced Sodium Broth Concentrate went in a different direction with a concentrated liquid in a squeeze bottle for a dual broth/condiment positioning.  Hailed as the “next generation of broth,” Kitchen Accomplice may be used like traditional liquid stock and can add a blast of flavor to dishes. It also is promoted as being less wasteful, since it has a six month refrigerated shelflife after opening, versus just a few days for packaged liquid broths.


Pasta sauce innovation went upscale in 2014. Leading the way is Unilever’s Bertolli brand with Bertolli Gold Label in flavors like Asiago Cheese Paired with Artichokes and Balsamic Vinegar with Caramelized Onions. Claimed to set a “gold standard of sauce,” all feature “regional specialty ingredients from Italy”—like Asiago cheese, porcini mushrooms and white truffle oil. 


Restaurant-inspired flavor innovation was offered by Campbell Soup and its new Prego Italian Sauce varieties: Merlot Marinara and Florentine Spinach & Cheese. An ethnic flavor twist came from Goya Foods with its Goya Pasta Sauce in flavors like Chunky Garlic & Cilantro, said to be a “perfect blend of tomatoes, vegetables, herbs and Latin seasonings.”


Exotic and indulgent flavors paced condiment innovation in 2014, resulting in some crazy new ketchup flavors. Black Truffle and Air Roasted Coffee are two of the more offbeat flavors of the dozen offered in the FineVines Artisanal Ketchup line from Leawood, Kan.-based Fine Foods of America Inc. Skillet Pumpkin Ketchup also broke new flavor ground in ketchup with three products boasting a flavor and health boost from pumpkin. Chipotle, Thai Coconut and Brown Sugar & Apple Vinegar were new flavors in this pumpkin-based ketchup line from Seattle-based Skillet Food LLC.


Bacon, whiskey and bourbon were other 2014 flavor indulgences. Fresh Market Bacon Flavored Ketchup from Greensboro, N.C.-based Fresh Market, and Jim Beam Bacon Mustard from Inwood, W.Va.-based Vita Specialty Foods both showcased bacon. Spirits also signal indulgence with Sutter Buttes Jalapeno Mustard with Whiskey from Sutter; Calif.-based Sutter Buttes; and S&F Schlotterbeck & Foss Sweet Bourbon Mustard from Portland, Maine-based Schutterbeck & Foss.


Salad dressings have been in a funk for some time, with growth retreating to the market’s extremes: refrigerated dressings at the high end and low-price offerings at the low. But neither sector seems to be doing well enough to lift all boats. Datamonitor Consumer’s Market Data Analytics expects U.S. sales of dressings (including mayonnaise) will post a compound annual growth rate of just 1.1% between 2013-2016.


One of the few bright spots in the salad dressing sector is ranch dressing. Indeed, ranch is a winner in foodservice, where it holds double the share of dollars and units of the next most popular flavor—blue cheese—says the NPD Group. The research firm estimates the average American eats salad dressing about 38 times per year, with ranch the choice for nearly 40% of those consumption opportunities.

Ranch is a top performer, because it works well as a dip or a dressing. New ranch introductions, like J.L. Kraft Dressing & Dip, played this versatility up in 2014 with co-branded flavors like Taco Bell Spicy Ranch, Bull’s Eye BBQ Ranch, Grey Poupon Dijon Ranch and Velveeta Cheesy Jalapeno Ranch.  Kraft Foods Group is clearly not willing to cede the ranch opportunity to Clorox’s top-selling Hidden Valley Ranch.

Ranch may be tasty, but it is not necessarily seen as healthful.  However, that is changing with Greek yogurt cutting calories and boosting protein. That is the ticket for Opa by Lighthouse Greek Yogurt Dressing from Sandpoint, Idaho-based Lighthouse Foods, which features flavors like Jalapeno Ranch and Kalamata Feta. 


Opa’s Feta Dill Greek Yogurt was named the “Dressing of the Year” by the Association for Dressings and Sauces in October 2014. According to Lighthouse Foods, Opa gained a 21% share of the yogurt-based, refrigerated salad dressing category in its first year on the market. Opa is claimed to have twice the protein of traditional salad dressing.


Lighthouse Foods doubled down on Greek with Opadipity Greek Yogurt Dip in flavors like Creamy Ranch and Chipotle Ranch. This launch capitalizes on growth in snacking occasions—another reason why ranch dressings are expanding, while the rest of the category treads water.

This focus on snacking also works for Saladshots, a flavorful new dressing line in BPA-free plastic pouches that is marketed as a great way to add flavor to salads, vegetables and more. With breakthrough flavors like Chocolate Chip, PB&J and Mac N’ Cheese, it is clear this is no ordinary salad dressing. Making salad dressing more fun and healthful is the vision of West Hollywood, Calif.-based Saladshots, a “Millennial-friendly” startup.


Other launches pushed the yogurt hot button. Campbell Soup’s Bolthouse Farms brand launched Bolthouse Farms Greek Yogurt Dressing in flavors like Peppercorn Ranch and Bold Blue Cheese, as well as Bolthouse Farms Yogurt Dressing in Cilantro Avocado and Mango Chipotle flavors. All reside in the chilled produce section, a place where chilled dressing picks up a bit of a healthy halo.

Dressing makers also added protein or other better-for-you ingredients in 2014. Tru Table Protein Dressing & Dip is enriched with whey protein isolate to deliver up to 20% of the recommended daily intake of protein per serving. Herbs and botanicals, like eyebright and dandelion root, are novel additions to Hilary’s Eat Well Salad Dressing & Dip from Lawrence, Kan.-based Hilary’s Eat Well. The firm’s Apple Fennel with Dandelion Root and Balsamic Thyme with Eyebright dressings use plant-based ingredients purported to reduce inflammation and promote eye health, respectively. 


Herbs could be an ingredient to watch in 2015, especially given an apparent revival in Green Goddess salad dressing. Heavy on herbs, the mayonnaise-based dressing saw unit volumes in foodservice triple in 2013, says the NPD Group.


Sandwich-spread dressings also jumped on the health bandwagon in 2014.  Avocado—an up-and-coming fruit high in monounsaturated fats—is the headliner for Calavo Avomayo Sandwich Spread with Calavo Haas Avocados. Beyond Eggs branded egg alternative—a revolutionary, new plant-based egg alternative—is the key ingredient for Just Mayo brand mayonnaise with egg substitute. New from San Francisco-based Hampton Creek Foods, Just Mayo generated controversy in 2014 with Unilever (the maker of Hellmann’s mayonnaise) suing Hampton Creek over the use of the word “mayo” for this egg-free mayonnaise product. Unilever withdrew the lawsuit in December.


Just Mayo was not the only new mayonnaise alternative to debut last year. French’s Foods introduced French’s Sooo Creamy & Light Mild Mustard Blend 0 Fat Mayo Alternative, a product with the tang of yellow mustard and the creaminess of mayonnaise, but with no egg- or oil-based ingredients, and no fat.

Dressing flavors added more heat in 2014, with spicy flavors in general and sriracha, in particular, on the rise. Sir Kensington’s Sriracha All Natural Mayonnaise is one of an incredible array of new foods featuring the sriracha flavor. Meanwhile, Wish-Bone Spicy Caesar Dressing shows that spice can perk up an old-school salad dressing flavor.


Ethnic flavors, especially Greek, also rose in 2014. Kraft Greek Vinaigrette Dressing was hailed as being “robust & lively.” Kraft Foods Group also added a Greek flavor to its Good Seasons Dressing & Recipe Mix line, as interest in Greek yogurt spills over into everything Greek.


The biggest news in marinades isn’t from new products, but is from a new study that found that a simple beer marinade helped lower the cancer risk of grilled meats. The study, published in the Chemical Society’s Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, found beer marinades reduced the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that form on meat when cooked at very high temperatures by anywhere from 13-50%—depending upon the meat and the type of beer used.


Flavor innovation in marinades came down on the hot-and-spicy side. McCormick & Company’s new Lawry’s with Zatarin’s Cajun 30-Minute Marinade turns the heat up on chicken, pork or shrimp. Watsonville, Calif.-based A&A Organic Farms promises to “wake up your senses” with Wet Rubz Santa Maria Style Marinade, which is heavy on garlic, onions, pepper and more. Finally, Texas-based Stubb’s Bar-B-Q offers a new way to “eat your greens” with Stubb’s Green Chile Marinade featuring Hatch green chiles, garlic and lime for “true Southwest flavor.”