Diversity is fuelling growth in the buoyant sauces and condiments market but there are fears that quality could suffer at the cheaper end due to price competition says Tracy Kelly Sauces and condiments add more than just a touch of flavour to retailers' shelves. The total market is valued at #481m, up 6.3% year-on-year according to TNS [52 w/e 21 July 02]. And the diversity of the market is growing daily as manufacturers add twists to traditional products and push into previously untapped markets.While it is the old favourites such as Heinz tomato ketchup and Hellmann's mayonnaise that remain in the top 10, new product launches have been key to driving sales. However, as competition intensifies, there are concerns that, while there has been greater focus on the premium end, quality could suffer at the commodity end as manufacturers compete on price. Michael Beard, chief executive of the Rayner Food Group, says: "Recently there have been worrying signs that, despite a very clear consumer demand for quality, the market appears to be sacrificing quality for price. Price pressures have made it increasingly difficult for suppliers to meet consumers' expectations. Given that the cost of a condiment represents approximately 0.2% of the total cost of an average meal, would the consumer really want to compromise standards when, after all, our products are meal enhancers and taste and quality are key? One has to question whether this type of aggressive pricing is really suitable for the sauces and condiments market." Pricing issues aside, it is the thick and thin' sauces sector that is driving total market growth, up 11% year-on-year in value terms [TNS]. This market, which includes tomato ketchup, accounts for nearly one-third of overall spend in the category. Elsewhere, as consumer tastes hot up, chilli sauces and Worcestershire sauce are also driving growth, alongside salad accompaniments which have benefited from the recent explosion in bagged salads. Another significant trend is the growth in organic products, with multiples now offering organic products alongside non-organic ones. William Opie, of Bennett Opie, reckons there's room for both: "Organic is an interesting area, although organic products take a huge amount of development. We've had a good response from retailers to products we have our organic Bramley apple sauce in three multiples. Organics is an interesting add-on and, understandably, the multiples want to offer consumers a choice, but I don't think they will replace traditional products." The majority of sauces and condiments are affected by seasonal trends whether salad dressings in the summer or cranberry sauce at Christmas and, to counter this, manufacturers are working towards more versatile products while trying to encourage more usage occasions. Much marketing focuses on communicating recipe ideas whether on pack, on leaflets or on dedicated web sites. Lea & Perrins says its TV ad campaign, which linked its Worcestershire sauce to high-frequency host food spaghetti bolognese, was instrumental in bringing 340,000 new households to the market. {{FOCUS ON }}