There is unrest among the new breed of sauce & condiment makers at the dominance of traditional lines on the fixture, says Jaq Bayles

It may be a £537m category that attracts 98.5% of all households [TNS Superpanel 52 w/e July 17, 2005], but that doesn’t mean the crowded sauces and condiments sector has no room for controversy or accusations of complacency.
The biggest criticism of the top brands is that they are lacking in innovation, and with Heinz’s recent takeover of HP, which the company is so far declining to discuss, there are also fears of one company monopolising the category.
Phil Lynas, MD at The Grocery Company, which manufactures the Nando’s range, says: “You now have a company that has the bestselling brown and red sauces, and effectively controls the sauces marketplace.
“The next 12 months will be very challenging in terms of space management. A huge acreage is devoted to Heinz and HP so there’s the challenge to balance space between the traditional and wider choice.”
But Heinz marketing manager for tomato ketchup, Jane Jeffreys, counters that the nation’s favourite table sauce is actually under-represented: “On most fixtures ketchup is underspaced in terms of its contribution to the market. There’s a proliferation of other brands and space doesn’t necessarily reflect the contribution. But retailers should offer choice.”
She’s backed up by Mike Knowland, category manager at Unilever UK Foods, which owns Hellmann’s. Knowland says: “There’s a growth in ethnic tastes but the vast majority is very traditional. People will buy into Indian or Chinese when they have those meals, but they very much stick to what they know. In some areas a disproportionate amount of space is given to those premium ethnic areas.”
Vicky Gregory, marketing manager for Heinz Salad Cream and cold condiments, admits that innovation within the company has been pretty much devoted to packaging and lower-calorie variants.
Other producers think the issue of choice is just where the supermarkets are falling down. National BBQ Association chairman Brian George, who also has his own range of sauces and marinades under the Grillmaster’s Revenge label, says: “Traditionalism is holding back sauces and condiments. Throughout the summer there’s a lot of interest in
sauces but once the season finishes they come off and you have to fight to get them on the fixture.
“The opportunity is there for more different, exciting and innovative flavours and presentation. The problem is that the market is traditional and not helped by the vast majority of buyers.”
Peter Hindmarsh, Nisaway category controller, also believes retailers could do more to boost sales outside of the barbecue season. “Retailers should have a dedicated fixture for sauces, dressings and condiments, rather than sticking them above freezer cabinets. By displaying the products clearly and neatly, and having them easily accessible, customers would be more likely to make a purchase,” he says. “Salad dressings can also be dual sited in the fresh vegetables/salad area.”
TNS data shows that the biggest sector is thick & thin sauces (eg red, brown, soy and Worcestershire), which are growing above the market at 2.2%, while Hellmann’s Real and Extra Light Mayonnaise, along with Heinz Light Salad Cream, are overall growth drivers.
Smaller players remain undeterred by the dominance of traditional lines, convinced that the innovative nature of their offerings is what the sector needs
to help it realise its full potential. Ethnic suppliers want to grow their share, too. Patak’s and Geeta’s point to their insistence on authenticity as central to encouraging consumers to be more adventurous.
Geeta Samtani, director of Geeta’s, points out: “People like us are making a difference to the category. Premium products are working and have their own niche, but supermarkets should have better signage on shelf.”
Her sentiments are echoed by Patak’s group director for marketing Fiona Mannion, who adds: “Products are put on shelf and I don’t think we have the opportunity to help people navigate the fixture. I think that more signage and category point-of-sale material to make it more enjoyable and easy to understand would be a quantum leap.”