The Chinese New Year calendar designates 2020 to be the “Year of the Rat.” If sauce, dressing, and spreads makers followed a similar convention, then 2019 would have been designated the “Year of the Plant.”

According to a 2019 Innova Consumer Survey, 63% of global consumers are increasingly trying to incorporate plant ingredients in the diet. Not surprisingly, sauce, dressing and spread manufacturers have been finding creative ways to address the trend as well.

Pasta sauce already is well represented in the plant-based space, especially tomato-based sauces. But that did not stop plant-based ingredients—such as cauliflower, kale, and chickpeas—from moving in.

Mizkan America’s Ragu Simply Garlic Parmesan Pasta Sauce with Cauliflower has half the fat and calories of Ragu’s Classic Alfredo Sauce. Bertolli Cauliflower and Milk Creamy Alfredo Sauce (another Mizkan brand) also uses milk and cauliflower to halve the fat and calorie content.

Campbell Soup’s Prego Farmers Market Chickpea and Kale Sauce leveraged “protein from vegetables” with its whole bean ingredients. Elsewhere, cauliflower disrupted the hummus market with products such as Lily’s Keto Cauliflower Hummus with Organic Turmeric.

For that matter, dips were especially welcoming to plant-based ingredients. Bush’s Best Original Bean Dip moved the popular canned bean brand into dips. A plant-based foods leader, Kite Hill (Lyrical Foods) used almond milk to create an Almond Milk Yogurt Based Dairy Free Ranch Dip. Karma Foods Inc. also said its new Good Karma Plant-Based French Onion Dip was “nut, soy, and dairy-free.”

Medlie Inc.’s Medlie Veggie Mash Avocado Greens with Collagen debuted as a “cauliflower-based, spoonable veggie blend boosted with nutrient-dense kale, avocado, and spirulina” and promoted as a dip or bread topper well-suited for making avocado toast.

Avocado really caught fire as a “hero ingredient” in 2019, especially in dressings and spreads. According to the Innova Market Insights Database, use of avocado as an ingredient in new sauce, dressing, and spread products in the US more than doubled between 2017 and 2019.

Examples include GoAvo’s Avocado Spread with Jalapeno as well as Stonewall Kitchen’s Lemon and Avocado Oil Aioli. Marzetti Avocado Ranch Dressing showed how avocado could be put to good use in dressings.

Back to the world of plants, Conagra Brands introduced Healthy Choice Power Ranch Power Dressing, which featured plant-based ingredients including cauliflower, white bean, avocado oil, and dill seed. 

Last year saw Reunion Foods Inc., Toronto, says it was growing distribution throughout North America with an expanded, 19-item line of Mother Raw plant-based refrigerated dressings and marinades, dips, condiments and quesos.

Plant-based ingredients also caught the eye of Kraft Heinz, leading the food giant to ramp up the plant-based credentials of one of its crown jewels: Heinz Ketchup. Heinz Tomato Ketchup with a Blend of Veggies has a 25% higher vegetable content than the regular product thanks to the inclusion of carrots and butternut squash. Officials said the move helped reduce sugar content by 25%.

As encouraging as the plant-based ingredient innovation trend was, it was not able to kick start new product growth. According to the Innova Database, the US number of new products in sauces, dressings, and spreads dropped by more than 7% between 2018 and 2019.

Some categories were able to buck the downtrend. Dips saw launches rise 13% in the US, compared to 2018’s tally. Launches of nut spreads rose just over 12%. On the other side of the ledger, launches of preserves and fruit spreads dipped by nearly 30%.

Dips & Spreads
The versatility of dips kept new product launches high. Sweet-tasting dips were strong in 2019, especially sweet hummus. Trader Joe’s Chocolate Hummus and Tribe Dark Chocolate Hummus both went in this direction. Another company, DELIGHTED BY Desserts, now offers as many as six sweet hummus varieties including Red Velvet.

Dressings powerhouse Clorox upped its dips and sauces game in 2019 under the Hidden Valley Ranch (HVR) brand. Company developers have launched HVR Blasted Creamy Dipping Sauces (Bold Buffalo, Ranch Dipped Pizza, Zestier Ranch), HVR Dips (Classic, Buffalo, and Bacon) and a new line of HVR Secret Sauces (Spicy, Smokehouse, Original Ranch.) 

Nut spreads benefitted from diet trends. Nuttzo Crunchy Seven Nuts and Seed Keto Butter was one example, with 2g of net carbs per serving and seven different nuts and seeds including Brazil nuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts.

Farmtrue Cacao Chai Ghee-Nut Butter took nut butter in an indulgent new direction. Made with cashews, pecans and peanuts, this nut butter uses grassfed ghee as an ingredient for a creamier, more digestible nut butter with no messy oil on top. The PB Crave brand also tracked toward indulgence with a new Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Peanut Butter Spread flavor.  

Putting teeth in the “fat is back” trend, SuperFat LLC introduced a line of SuperFat Amazing Nut Butters in several flavors including an MCT + Probiotic variant. It’s made with macadamia nut butter and claims to support metabolism and brain function.

The biggest nut butter news in 2019 was the entry of Kellogg’s RXBAR brand into the fray with Rx Nut Butter and Protein Spread in flavors such as Vanilla Almond Butter. And speaking of big brand news, the Lindt chocolate brand decided to give Nutella a run for the money with Lindt Cocoa Hazelnut Spread.

One of the most unusual spreads of the year was Nudge Spread Coffee on Toast, an Italian Espresso Roast Coffee Butter that turns coffee into an edible, spreadable treat.

Sauce is the Boss
Pasta sauce innovation skewed toward premium products. Trader Joe’s Black Truffle Alfredo Pasta Sauce demonstrated the versatility of truffle. “The Godfather” inspired Corleone Fine Italian Foods to reach out to movie fans with flavors like Marinara and Tomato Basil.

For kids, the popular Hello Kitty brand joined in with Italian Pasta Sauce in flavors like Tomato Basil.

In other pasta sauce news, Kraft Heinz made a big bet on “The Pioneer Woman” brand with a new line of pasta sauces, dressings, and sauces pasta sauces, salad dressings dressed in gingham packaging reminiscent of days gone by. 

“The Pioneer Woman” is synonymous with Ree Drummond, host of The Food Network’s “The Pioneer Woman” show.

The big news in cooking sauces for 2019 was the debut of the Instant Pot brand. Williams Sonoma Instant Pot Vietnamese Pulled Pork Starter was one of a multi-flavor line of Instant Pot branded sauces from the specialty retailer. 

Further evidence that the Instant Pot brand stands to shake things up came from Kraft Heinz and its new Instant Pot Sauces including Southern Barbecue and Lemon Herb Sauce.

New flavor trends often emerge from categories like cooking sauces, and one trend gaining momentum there is Middle Eastern flavors. Wild Garden Persian Sumac Quick Marinade and Tunisian Shakshouka Simmer Sauce could foreshadow future innovation in that direction. So could Green Mountain Gringo Harissa
BBQ Sauce. 

If so, the US could catch up to the rest of the world. According to the Innova Database, the compound annual growth rate for global food and beverage launches tracked with Middle Eastern flavors like Za’atar and Dukkah expanded at a compound annual growth rate of 23.2% for the period from 2014 to 2018. For perspective, Southeast Asian flavors had a 14.2% growth rate during the same period. 

Table sauces paid heed to the keto diet. Guy Gone Keto Brand and Peppery Steak Sauce was one such example. Other innovations made incremental improvements in category nutritionals.

Some table sauces went in a bolder direction. Jack Daniels’s Extra Hot Habanero Barbecue Sauce went there as did Wild Style Jalapeno Lime Twist Sauce. In-store signage for the latter (from Kraft Heinz) calls out the product line as “food truck flavors at your fingertips.”

All Dressed Up
Sophistication and indulgence kept the home fires burning for salad dressings. “Twice churned” Kraft Indulgence Dressing in a Bistro Bacon Ranch flavor claimed to be made from fresh cream and real bacon. 

Other dressings added new twists to old favorites. Marie’s Market Reserve Dressing offered Smoked Black Pepper Caesar, an upgrade of this classic dressing flavor. Fruit was a focus for Panera Bread at Home Fuji Apple Vinaigrette Dressing.

Kraft Heinz added new Twisted Ranch dressing line, taking its name from St. Louis, Missouri’s Twisted Ranch restaurant where everything on the menu is made with ranch. The restaurant “went viral” after a Buzzfeed video earned 34 million views in just 48 hours. Twisted Ranch Batch #1022 Garlic Smashed Buffalo Dressing was one of several flavors in this line.

Salad dressing is tasty, but can often be high in calories. Marzetti Simply 60 Dressing aimed to reverse that perception with “60” referring to the 60 calories per serving for dressings like Honey Mustard Vinaigrette.

Tom Vierhile is vice president strategic insights, North America for the Netherlands-based Innova Market Insights and has more than 20 years of experience in new consumer packaged goods reporting and analysis. Tom holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from St. Bonaventure University and a MBA from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Follow him on Twitter at @TomVierhile.