Slowly but surely, as we emerge from the pandemic there is no doubt that consumers will return to want new experiences and will be more open to experimentation. Sauces, spreads, dips, and marinades are some of the best categories to bridge the gap from comfort to innovation and from ubiquity to uniqueness.

The inevitable transition from comfort to experimentation will be gradual for most consumers. There will not be a switch that, from one day to the next, signals the shift to a more open mindset when it comes to food. There is no doubt many consumers have missed restaurant-driven experiences, with restaurants serving as the best driver for experimentation. However, retail product manufacturers have gone a long way to create at-home solutions that replace (to some degree or another) those restaurant experiences.

Even at restaurants, sauces, spreads, dips, and marinades are one of the most critical tools to create new and unique experiences for patrons. Whether those sauces complete a totally authentic and exotic experience for US consumers or add an unexpected element to a completely familiar item like a burger—these ingredients are some of the most critical back-of-house workhorses for restaurant operators.

At retail, we have seen the sauce, spread, dip and marinade categories expand significantly during the past few years. Much of this expansion has been driven by the wide array of options entering our markets from other world cuisines. From harissa and gochujang to tzatziki and zhug, retailers and manufacturers have recognized both the interest consumers have in these items and the power of these items for the at-home cook.


Poised to Grow, New Tastes Too

As we emerge from the pandemic, expect this category to expand both at retail and in foodservice. Many sauces that were growing prior to the pandemic will pick up their growth rate. These include harissa, every possible iteration of ranch, Nashville hot and all manner of sriracha iterations, Other newer options will become the new stars. They include hot /spicy honey, sweet fruit-based sauces, agrodolce, savory jams and herb-based sauces.

It’s not just what will be trending—but how these items will be offered—that will help revolutionize the role of retail in America. With so many more consumers interested in, engaged in, and more driven by at-home food preparation, retailers have the opportunity to connect with their consumers in new ways. This not only includes offering innovative sauce, spread, dip and marinade products and flavors—but  also using these items as the base for social media-driven communication. It’s all about assisting consumers in everything from traditional to far-more interesting applications of these products.

Once in the pantry, any one of these products can support and spur innovation from appetizers and entrées to beverages and desserts. An exciting new sauce typically used to prepare a dinner entrée could easily amp up the flavor profile of a breakfast sandwich or homemade egg dish.

The continued growth of kits at retail offers another great opportunity for not only an individual sale but repeat sales driven by the sauces contained in the kits. If we learned anything from the pandemic, it is that expanding potential revenue sources is the key to survival through uncertain times. Any unique new offering should be considered not only as a one-time sales potential but, as in the case with kits, every element within the kit should present future sales opportunities through engaged communication and support of home experimentation.

Don’t forget the many opportunities for manufacturers and retailers to partner with restaurants that have sauces that offer them competitive points of differentiation and are uniquely tied to their brand image. As restaurants look for retail-based revenue streams, manufacturers and retailers also can benefit by offering these items whether nationally recognized or more regionally relevant.

Sauces, spreads, dips, and marinades also may act as the bridge category to spur additional category purchases if supporting communication is well designed and managed. Why only purchase gremolata—when a consumer also could purchase the related protein, carbs, vegetables, and spices that will create an entire meal or meals? 

Retailers and manufacturers have done a great job innovating during the pandemic and taking advantage of the gaps left by restaurants in lockdown. These innovation efforts should not be abandoned as restaurants come back online but doubled, and the sauce, spreads, dips and marinade categories can be one of the strongest tools with which to continue and expand engagement with consumers.