Top shelf sauce

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Related tags: Curry, Sauce, Iri

Top shelf sauce
The rise of the celebrity chef and the trend towards dining in are stimulating demand for sauces allowing have-a-go home chefs to create restaurant-quality dishes. Lynda Searby gets to the sauce of the matter

The move of digital cameras into the mainstream has spawned a generation of amateur snappers who think they are David Bailey but don't quite have the talent.

A similar thing has happened in the food world, where programmes like MasterChef, The F Word, and Come Dine With Me have spurred amateur chefs in home kitchens everywhere to attempt to create restaurant-standard dishes.

This might be slightly irritating, but it does have its benefits. The cooking sauces market, which is benefitting from this revival in home cooking, certainly isn't complaining. According to IRI data, the cooking sauce and accompaniments category is worth £945M and growing by a healthy 5.5% year-on-year. And one of the growth drivers is the emergence of a 'super-premium' sector, according to Mintel.

While some credit for the rise of 'super-premium' sauces is thanks to the likes of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, the recession is also playing its part.

"A side-effect of the 'trade down' from restaurant eating to dining at home is that consumers are often willing to pay a premium for special meal occasions, which allows manufacturers to capture extra value for products that add that special finishing touch," says Mike Jones, Europe, Middle East and Africa category manager for convenience with Cargill Texturizing Solutions.

Manufacturers have been quick to cotton on to the opportunity to provide consumers with sauces that enable them to recreate 'restaurant-quality' meals at home.

AB World Foods, for example, has launched a new oven-bake Biryani Sauce range under its Patak's brand, which it says offers 'an easy short cut to producing a classic favourite that is both authentic and to restaurant standard'. Designed to be poured onto uncooked rice and placed in the oven for 35 minutes, the sauces are said to be the first oven-bake Biryani sauces on the UK market. Patak's has also added new 'restaurant quality' side dishes to the range. It says it hopes the Easy Saag Aloo, Easy Mushroom Bhaji, Easy Bombay Potato and Easy single-use paste sachets will appeal to the 24% of consumers who believe they are unable to recreate a restaurant experience at home.

Celebrity endorsements

Some sauces use celebrity chef endorsement to support their 'restaurant quality' credentials. Greencore produces the Seriously Good range of cooking sauces, which benefits from a charitable link with one of Britain's most recognisable chefs: Gordon Ramsay. The top-end positioning is also helped by the inclusion of premium-sounding ingredients. Cherry Tomato & Balsamic sauce, for example, is made by combining extra virgin olive oil, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and 12-year-old balsamic vinegar.

Targeting have-a-go-at-home chefs is the English Provender Company, which recently took its Very Lazy range into new territory with the launch of a line of high-end concentrated cooking sauces. It says the concentrates aim to reduce the skills, number of ingredients and preparation time needed to make nutritious, classic, home-cooked meals. The concentrates are available in four flavours: Posh Sausage Casserole, Beef Bourguignon, Coq au Vin and Creamy Chicken.

Although more mainstream than the English Provender concentrates and in dried format, Schwartz's Flavourful mixes are in a similar vein. They are recipe mixes that include chopped herbs and slowly roasted spices for a fuller flavour.

"The Flavourful range impresses even the most demanding foodies as unlike other recipe mixes, which are ground down to a powder the larger pieces of herbs and whole spices allow you to taste what you see," says Vicky Cojeen, Schwartz marketing manager. The 14-strong range includes Chicken Biryani, Chilli Con Carne and Jamaican Jerk Chicken.

Another knock-on effect of the recession has been that family dining has come back into fashion, according to Wendy Wing, customer marketing manager with Mars Food UK, owner of the Dolmio, Seeds of Change and Uncle Ben's brands. "Brits are getting back to basics and enjoying meals together as a way of connecting socially as a family and finding a cost-effective solution to mealtimes."

While this trend has benefitted the cooking sauce sector as a whole, the Italian cooking sauces sector in particular has emerged as a winner. "Meals such as spaghetti bolognese and pasta provide cost-effective family meals that take little time to prepare and are enjoyed by the whole family," says Wing. These observations are backed by IRI data, which shows that Italian wet cooking sauces have been performing strongly throughout 2009 and are worth £337.9M and experiencing 10.3% year-on-year growth.

Bakes a key growth area

Within Italian sauces, bakes are a key growth area, according to Wing.

"Oven bakes are faring well in the recession as they provide family favourite meals that are good value for money, convenient and tasty," says Wing.

This is supported by IRI, which values this segment at £27M and growing by 21.9% year on year.

Rival Premier Foods also sees bake sauces as a major growth area, and has expanded its range of Loyd Grossman cooking sauces to include four Italian Al Forno bakes. These are designed to fill a gap in the market for two-person oven bake meals that deliver 'real meal solutions to foodies', according to Matt Brown, head of marketing for sauces. "Over 50% of spend on Italian bakes comes from ABC1 consumers, so there is a definite opportunity for a more gourmet offering in the market," he says.

Italian sauces might command the lion's share of the market, but other cuisines hold their own too.

The Bay Tree has just branched out beyond Italian sauces to launch 12 sauces that are intended as an accompaniment to meat, game and poultry, and include Redcurrant & Rosemary, Mustard & Tarragon and Caramelised Onion & Rosemary.

Three of the sauces Korma, Tikka Masala and Vindaloo are Indian, and it's no coincidence that Indian sauces account for the second largest share of the wet cooking sauce market, worth £106M and growing by 8.7% year on year (source: IRI).

Keeping pace with rival Patak's, Premier Foods has launched a range of three Biryanis Tomato & Cumin, Mint & Coriander and Coconut & Curry Leaf under its Sharwood's brand. Other innovation in Indian sauces has included the addition of a Butter Chicken sauce to the Patak's sauce range apparently the first ever Butter Chicken recipe to appear in the ambient aisle, and the introduction of three new sauces at the milder and spicier ends of the heat spectrum by Sharwood's. These are: Pineapple & Coconut Curry, Black Pepper Masala and Special Edition Goan Vindaloo.

Smaller competitors

Increasing competition from smaller, more nimble players is also forcing the big boys to step up their game and make their sauces more authentic. One smaller company is Anila's Authentic Sauces, which was founded in 1997 by Anila Vaghela and won several Great Taste Awards. The company's best-selling products are Spicy Korma Curry Sauce and Goan Green Curry Sauce, the latter also has a 'health dimension', owing to the green vegetables and herbs it contains.

Vaghela believes that it will become more important to consumers that sauces contain natural ingredients, especially herbs with medicinal properties such as mint, coriander and fenugreek leaves. Valued at £93M and growing by 6% year on year (source: IRI), Oriental is the other world cuisine that accounts for a major share of the cooking sauces market. Chinese sauces are the most established, which probably explains the slower pace of innovation in this area. The only notable new product development in the last 12 months has come from Sharwood's in the form of two new flavour additions Beijing Chilli Bean and Cantonese Curry.

Competitor Blue Dragon has taken the more daring step of launching a range of sauces and meal kits that exploit the emerging popularity of Japanese cuisine.

"By demystifying what is perceived as a challenging cuisine, our aim is to attract new consumers into the ambient Oriental category while still maintaining authenticity," says Tracy Hughes, Blue Dragon consumer trade and marketing controller.

The portfolio includes three Yaki sauce variants Chilli Sesame, Sesame, Soy & Spring Onion and Sweet Plum & Ginger and a Katsu curry sauce.

Caribbean sauces have long been threatening to break into the mainstream. Enco Foods is one of the main players in this category and, interestingly, recently took its Encona brand beyond its Caribbean roots into other world cuisines, perhaps indicating that Caribbean is destined to remain a niche.

The new range of sauces was launched under the strapline 'Encona Taste Explorers' and draws on flavours from Asia, the Far East and the Americas. It includes Thai Chilli and Ginger Sauce, Thai Chilli and Garlic Sauce and American Chilli Ketchup.

Strictly speaking, these fall into the table sauces category, according to commercial director George Phillips, but a lot of consumers are using them as cooking ingredients.

"As consumers become more adventurous with what they cook at home, the boundary between cooking sauces and table sauces is becoming increasingly blurred. Our core Caribbean consumer base has always used products like our Hot Pepper Sauce as an ingredient. Now other consumers are also using them more as ingredients, for example, adding a dash of Hot Pepper Sauce to a chilli." FM

KEY CONTACTS

AB World Foods 01732 224200

Anila's Authentic Sauces 020 8577 6162

Blue Dragon 01942 267 090

Cargill Texturizing Solutions 00 32 15 401 929

Enco Products 01707 326222

English Provender Company 01635 528800

Mars Food UK 01553 692222

Mintel 020 7600 5703

Premier Foods 01727 815850

Schwartz 01844 294355

The Bay Tree 01749 831300

Related topics: NPD

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