Consumers turned to condiments during the recent recession as a low-cost way to add interest to the rising number of meals they were preparing at home. But what happens now that purse strings have loosened and dining out is once again popular?

by Denise Shoukas

An affordable way to add flavor to food, condiments are a top choice for consumers when cooking at home. During the worst of the recession, when shoppers snapped their wallets shut to higher-priced foods, they willingly opened them for condiments. Sales grew by 15 percent from 2007 to 2012 (4 percent when adjusted for inflation), to reach $9.7 billion; the highest growth coincided with the start of the recession. Future sales growth will hinge on inspiring home cooks to increase the number of products they use and the frequency, as well as offering better-for-you options and more ethnic and spicy flavor varieties.

The condiment segment is vast. Mintel defines the category to encompass pickles, olives and relishes; mayonnaise; ethnic sauces, including Mexican and Asian sauces; sauces for meat, including barbecue, steak and Worcestershire sauces; and mustard, ketchup and other sauces, including hot, cocktail, dairy, horseradish and seafood sauces.

The Market

Key Points

  • The condiment category reached $9.7 billion in sales in 2012. The onset of the recession saw sales increase by 5.6 percent in 2008 and 6.2 percent in 2009. Mintel forecasts conservative growth through 2017 with category sales reaching $10.7 billion.
  • The condiments category is highly saturated, with some 91 percent of consumers using ketchup, 86 percent using mustard and 84 percent using mayonnaise. Growing future sales will require flavor and usage innovation. Smaller packaging, to encourage sampling, and suggesting uses for unfamiliar items and flavors may encourage purchases.
  • Pickles, olives and relish lead the category, accounting for 26.1 percent of condiment sales.
  • Though there was a slight slowdown in sales as the economy improved and people began to dine out more, product launches continued at a steady rate with 848 condiments hitting the market in 2011. New packaging and product relaunches are the most popular occurrences. Other trends included resealable bags and reduced packaging.
  • Gluten-free claims on new launches rose a whopping 289 percent from 2007 to 2012, while low/no/reduced-allergen claims grew 271 percent. Organic and premium claims declined over the same time period.
  • As the economy rebounds, consumers view premium attributes—such as smaller, limited-edition formulations, local/regional varieties and fresh/refrigerated blends—as a special treat, traits that will keep them engaged in the category and open them to exploring higher-quality products.

The Consumer

Key Points

  • Some 52 percent of condiment users say low sodium/sodium-free is an important quality to them when choosing products. This same percentage indicates the importance of all-natural products.
  • Half of survey respondents think it’s important that condiments come in a squeezable container.
  • Some 82 percent of condiment users do so to add flavor to otherwise bland foods. As such, product messaging that emphasizes this benefit should be prioritized.
  • Sixty percent of users need a variety of condiment types/flavors to satisfy their tastes, indicating that the purchase of one condiment type does not rule out the purchase of another. More than one-third (37 percent) of condiment users enjoy trying new and different flavors.
  • Hispanics are the most frequent users of condiments and seem to use the greatest variety of products. This group averages use of 2.47 condiment types, whereas the general condiment user uses 2.08. Additionally, 10 percent of Hispanics surveyed use five or more types in a typical day. Promoting families of condiments that are formulated to complement one another may resonate with these consumers.

Recent Product Introductions

  • BrannenGourmet Sweet Habanero B-B-Q Sauces
  • The Brooklyn Salsa Company The Mole
  • Conscious Choice Foods The Original Beer Pickle
  • First Field Jersey Ketchup Ford’s Foods Inc. Bone Suckin’ Yaki
  • Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen Chile de Arbol Hot Sauce
  • Golden West Specialty Foods Gluten-Free Wok Mei
  • Kozlik’s Canadian Mustards Triple Crunch Mustard
  • L.L. Ohana Mr. G’s Hawaii-style Teriyaki
  • My Brother’s Salsa Cranberry Orange
  • Salsa Simply Southern Gourmet Roasted Peach Mango Pepper Mustard
  • Tabasco Brand Products Tabasco Buffalo Style Sauce
  • Uncle Jim’s Foods Wasabi Pepper Mustard
  • Vino de Milo Sizzling Summer Peach Hot Salsa