Popular, versatile tomato-based Italian sauces continue to star in the cooking sauces sector, but manufacturers say value has been squeezed by heavy promotions. Jaq Bayles reports

Italian continues to be the star of the £454.3m ambient wet cooking sauces sector, up 4.5% in value year-on-year and commanding nearly half the value share at £224.1m - way ahead of its nearest rival, Indian, which is worth £79.7m [TNS 52 w/e November 6, 2005]. UK consumers still can’t get enough of the versatile tomato-based Italian sauces.
Yet, Italian sauces aside, there isn’t an awful lot of cheer for many companies, despite the category growing 1.8% to £11m. Only traditional British dishes rose in value, up 5.4% to £51.2m, while Indian and Oriental cooking sauces fell 0.9% and 0.8% respectively, and Mexican sauces dropped 5.9%.
Topping the league table of cooking sauces is Dolmio, which grew 10.7% in value to £108.6m [ACNielsen 52 w/e October 1, 2005] and is worth more than double its nearest rival, Knorr. Other Italian brands have also fared well this past year, with Sacla’, Napolina and Bertolli all in growth.
Natercia Kubicek, business group manager for Bertolli, part of the Unilever UK Foods stable, says: “Value delivery in recipe sauces has been squeezed in a deflationary and heavily promoted arena. But the Italian sector has managed to buck the trend, with value delivering better than volume. This success is mostly attributable to innovation and brand communication.”
With ethnic sauces, the growth continues to be at the premium and authentic end. M&S, for example, has a number of new sauce varieties as part of its Cook! range of fresh convenient products.
However, Dragon Brands consultant Gareth
Pugh says companies are looking to boost sales through improved packaging and formats rather than recipe changes. “Instead of the communication of these sauces as convenient kitchen helpmates that promise great taste, there is a greater emotional focus on the fun to be had in the preparation.”
But some companies are calling for more innovation to drive a sector that is suffering from maturity. RH Amar, which distributes the Oriental brand Wing Yip and Indian brand Geeta’s, says penetration is high, with more than 70% of UK consumers aged over 15 buying cooking sauces. “The market is nearing saturation and prospects for high-level growth are declining. Manufacturers need to move away from bogofs and other volume promotions to stop devaluing the market. They need to invest the money saved in more value-added promotions and new product development to quench consumer thirst for premium products.”
Damien Wurpillot, marketing manager of own label specialist Greencore Grocery, says: “Relaunches and promotions have been at the heart of the brand agenda in 2005. We have received little innovation from brands. The category needs to reinvent itself.”
He says own label is rising to the challenge by maintaining competitive pricing and added-value ranges such as premium and healthy, growing market share by 12.8% and 6% respectively [TNS data to January 2, 2005].
Remmelt Jongkind, marketing director for Napolina, points out that there are two definite price points in ambient sauces, with standard sauces retailing at around £1 and premium at £1.49-£1.70. “Currently, no major brands are pushing the £1.99 barrier. But as the authenticity and perceived health benefits of premium products continue to play an important role, there could be room for discernibly different sauces to drive value growth at the top end.”
In terms of the rise of traditional British flavours, Homepride decided to rationalise its range and work on its heritage as a British brand. Olivia Hendrick, senior brand manager, says: “The growth in gastropubs and British chefs going back to basic traditional food have helped drive awareness.”
However, while the market for traditional sauces is growing, the major brands are having less luck as smaller players take some of their share. For example, Homepride’s wet brand fell 10.6% in value to £39.5m, while Colman’s Dry Sachets fell 26.8% [ACNielsen].