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Spicier sauces bring the heat to grocery aisles

Higher sales for sauces, dips and salsas as Canadians look for inexpensive ways to add some zip to their dishes

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What’s the cure for a snoozing economy on the home front? For many Canadian households, it’s to add more flavour to meals.

Baking and cooking sauces have risen 4% in dollars over the last year, and meat and seafood sauces are up 2%, according to Nielsen.

Spicier sauces, in particular, are bringing heat to grocery aisles. Sales of chili sauces are up 9% in dollars and 11% in units. Even old-standby zingers such as Worcestershire sauce are growing, up 5% in dollars.

What’s going on?

“All demographics are drawn to sauces now,” says Joel Gregoire, food and beverage industry analyst with NPD Group in Toronto. “Younger consumers want exciting new flavours, and retiring boomer workers have time to experiment with sauces, especially in slow-cooking meals.”

Sauces are an inexpensive way for cash-crunched consumers to indulge at home. But our love affair with spicier and fiery sauces is proving permanent, as exotic and ethnic flavours are woven into the Canadian palate.

READ: Spices – the ultimate convenience food

Asian sriracha in particular is experiencing a heyday. A court-ordered shutdown of Huy Fong Foods’ sriracha sauce factory in Los Angeles in November–due to its peppery odours that caused nearby residents’ eyes to burn–set off mild panic among suppliers and aficionados who worried about a sudden sriracha shortage.

The flaming hot sriracha brand, in its distinctive green-tipped squeeze bottle with a drawing of a rooster, has become hugely popular in both Canada and the United States.

No wonder that sriracha is showing up in more products, both saucy and not. Sauce-maker Lee Kum Kee recently launched creamy Sriracha Mayo sauces that it says are ideal for wraps, tacos and sandwiches.

At last month’s Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, sriracha was hailed as a top trend. Among the sriracha-infused products at the show: an organic hummus by Boulder, Colo.- based Hope Hummus, and a peach-and-sriracha jam from Brooklyn, N.Y.’s The Jam Stand.

That product’s slogan said it all: “I pack the heat and the sweet.”

For the longest time, hot sauce makers were embroiled in a heat arms race to see who could make the fieriest sauce on the planet.

“But what a lot of manufacturers forgot was that most people still want to enjoy what they eat,” says Liz Newton, the creator behind Dad’s Westcoast Awesome Sauces on Vancouver Island.

The “how hot can you go?” novelty may be coming to an end, believes Dan Taylor of Dan T’s Inferno Foods, in Mississauga, Ont. Consumers, he says, prefer a spicy balance of “heat and flavour.” One of his company’s new sauces, Dan T’s Paradiso fruit compote, fits the bill.

READ: Unusual flavours popping up in everyday products

With almost 100 hot sauces in The Market Stores outlets in Victoria, grocery manager Jason Boer generally sees two types of sauce customers. “One is motivated by the novelty of a product and the other wants quality brands that suit all family members,” Boer says.

In particular, consumers are looking for unique and “different” flavours, which stems from an increasing and more diverse ethnic influence, says Ken Seiter, CEO of the Speciality Food Association in New York City. “Chinese and Thai flavours dominate in sauces, but we are seeing more popularity of Indian and Japanese varieties.” Expect more exotic flavours from Africa, the Mediterranean and Mexico.

As for dips, it’s all about yogurt, especially the Greek variety. Product innovation, such as the Skotidakis range of Greek yogurt dips, helped propel the dip category forward, says Euromonitor analyst Svetlana Uduslivaia.

Like sauces, dips have performed well in grocery aisles. Sales are up 4%, according to Nielsen data. Garlic and guacamole dips, in particular, are strong, up 12% and 7% respectively in dollars. Mexican salsa and dips, too, are growing (up 2%) although cheese sauces are down 45%.

But with nearly limitless variety for retailers to choose from, which products are doing well at store level? Generally, brands that offer versatility, says Francine Wayland at Max’s Market in Toronto.

“Consumers are looking for products that can be used with a variety of meats or snacks. Consumers are not necessarily brand loyal but are willing to try new flavours.”

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