Taking Over The Food Industry Are These Little Additions, And The Next Frontier Is Desserts

Guilty! I am one of millions of Americans guilty of dipping, spreading, layering and squeezing sauces, condiments and dressings all over my food. I am the one requesting a side of barbecue sauce, ranch dressing, sweet and sour sauce, and honey mustard for one dish to alternately dip and take in the full variety of flavor combinations. The good news, I am not alone, and the outlook for the success of sauces and condiments in all facets of the food industry looks strong.
According to the Foodservice Research Institute, sauces and condiments account for 4.5 billion pounds of product and $8.5 billion dollars in sales to foodservice distributors. To put this number in perspective, a gallon of milk in the U.S. weighs approximately 8.5 pounds, therefore approximately 53 million milk jugs full of condiments a year are consumed. Breaking it down further, the BEST Report on Sauces and Condiments shares that chain restaurants use an estimated 57 percent of all sauces and condiments; independent restaurants consume approximately 31 percent and institutions such as colleges, hospitals, schools and other noncommercial operators account for 12 percent of this volume. One chain segment in particular the study points out, QSR chains, can boast in excess of 1.6 billion pounds of sauce and condiment usage.1 It’s a condiment lover’s market and recent trend studies and new product launches showcase there’s only more to come.
The success of condiments and sauces can be attributed to so many factors. Consumers are growing more and more accustomed to the phrase Burger King coined, “Have It Your Way.” This mentality of customizing a meal is huge business. Condiments and sauces are the easiest way for restaurants to take a blank slate and give consumers the choice of selecting just how their dish should taste. Remember the time when wings came in three flavors, mild, medium and hot? Now, there’s not only a long list of sauces but rubs and dressings to dip them in as well. It’s not just in quick service or fast casual sector of dining, fine dining is also adding to these little additions by plating up aiolis, foams, chutneys and flavored powders. MenuMine, an online menu information service from Foodservice Research Institute, reports on and tracks over 8,000 sauces and condiments. The competition for the flavors of sauces and condiments is only getting steeper as new ideas emerge.
Don’t rule out direct to retail either; grocery aisles are struggling to find shelf space for the plethora of sauces and condiments so consumers can customize in their own kitchens. Convenience is another factor for the success of sauces, dressings and condiments. Let’s be honest, making scratch-made sauce, spice mix, etc. is lengthy and often times requires a rigorous list of ingredients. Why make it when it can be bought – pesto, sesame marinade, salsas of every kind – the options are limitless. Today’s consumer is busy and on the run; throwing some steak on the grill or sautéing up chicken and vegetables is easy with a pre-made sauce or seasoning to kick up the flavor.

If convenience and customization are reasons consumers love condiments it’s also the variety. Still the revered favorites are ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and marinara sauces, but with spice varietals, ethnic and even sweet preferences finding their way into the market the questions have to be asked, “will these classics remain in their top spots?” and “what’s the next frontier in condiments and sauces?”
Like many trends in the food industry, there are ones that penetrate throughout. Alcohol is everywhere – in savory, in desserts and in sauces as well. Ethnic is also big, and as our world becomes more global, new tastes from across the waters continue to emerge. To name a few, Latin and Asian-inspired sauces are on trend and giving Americans a taste of something different.
Reinvention of the classics and healthy alternatives still remain heavy influencers in sauces and condiments. Low calorie, low fat and low sodium options as well as newer versions of the good ol‘ stuff such as olive oil mayonnaise, spiced ketchup and wasabi mustard are in abundance. The options are so vast companies now need to look where else they can innovate.

The answer they’re finding: desserts. Also not immune to industry-wide trends desserts are seeing the alcohol and ethnic flavor revolution take hold but also concepts such as the self-serve bar and dessert tapas so consumers can try a little bit of everything. All of these trends lend themselves to incorporating sauces and condiments into the dessert sector. They may just go under a slightly different name … toppings. The category is one that is ripe for the picking. For years the only dessert additions were chocolate syrup, marshmallow fluff, whipped cream, caramel and strawberry sauces. Companies are looking for ways to innovate and offer consumers the same customization options that they have in savory. In the last few years, Kraft for example, has launched Cool Whip Frostings, Jet-Puffed Mallow Bits and Baker’s Dipping Chocolates. In QSRs, soft serve and fast food chains are continually bringing in new toppings to add to greater mix, such as Wendy’s Frosty Parfait with apples and caramel sauce. And, in fine dining, pastry chefs are adorning their plates with sauce creations that carry unique and new flavors such as tea, corn and sesame.
Toppings or dessert condiments are a growing part of the business that can influence creative ideas for businesses – look at pizza franchises that offer dessert pizzas complete with icing and chocolate dipping sauces. In this frontier, it’s all about how you integrate the dessert and sauces into your existing line of products. Despite thousands of condiments, sauces and dressings circulating in the foodservice world, there are untapped opportunities and these additions are easy to implement.
Condiments, sauces and dressings, oh my, you have emerged. What comes next, who knows, but for a crazy condiment lover such as myself, I look forward to the next little flavor addition. What’s one more sauce to dip into?
Resources and Further Reads:

Sauces and Condiments. Report from the Food Service Institute. Retrieved February 26, 2013