Branston's entry into the table sauces market has had an immediate impact on the category, and has been one of the main drivers for the 4.2% value growth of the category in the past year.

Although the Branston brand has a long way to go to catch up with Heinz, whose red sauce has been a mainstay of retailers' shelves and the nation's tables for the past 130 years, the newcomer has not fared badly since it hit shelves seven months ago.

According to figures from IRI, Branston tomato ketchup has achieved a 5.1% value share within the multiples, making it the second bestselling tomato ketchup brand [four weeks to 22 July 2006] and the brown option, including the rich and fruity version, has a value share of 11.1%.

Not content with this, Premier Foods predicts that its table sauces will deliver sales of £15m in two years, contributing to Branston's target of becoming a £70m brand by 2008.

"We are confident that the introduction of Branston table sauces will drive category growth and offer a great-tasting alternative to the brand leader," ­comments Sue Knight, general manager for pickles & sauces at Premier Foods.

Fighting its corner in the tomato sauce wars, Heinz dug deep into its pockets to support its iconic ketchup brand, splashing out £6m on a media campaign stressing the quality of its main ingredient. The push followed the claim by Premier Foods that its Branston tomato sauce contains 20% more tomatoes than the brand leader. And, according to TNS, out of the 74.2% of households in the UK that buy tomato ketchup, 69% of consumers choose the Heinz brand ­

[52 w/e July 2006].

Says Laura Groves, Heinz Tomato Ketchup brand manager: "The campaign has been a resounding ­success. It emphasises Heinz's position as market leader with the strapline,

'We don't have to play ketchup'."

The brand also sailed on a wave of PR generated from its 130th birthday and sales were further boosted by the increasing move towards squeezy and top-down formats, a trend started by Heinz when it launched the first top-down ketchup a few years ago.

Not to be left out, Premier Foods hit back by introducing the first top-down ­version of brown sauce to the market under its

Branston umbrella.

Yet there will always be consumers who prefer the traditional glass bottle, according to Groves. He says: "The convenience of plastic packaging and especially the top-down revolution is helping drive growth, but shoppers who prefer glass remain numerous and loyal to this iconic format."

Wilkin & Sons, for example, recently added a tomato ketchup and a brown sauce to its Tiptree portfolio, opting for the glass format.

"Not only are consumers becoming more adventurous, but we have also noticed a marked willingness on the part of retailers to try more upmarket products in this category," says Ian Thurgood, joint MD of Wilkin & Sons.

To illustrate its superior credentials, every bottle is hand-finished and comes with a retail price more than twice that of the market leader. With listings in Waitrose and independent retailers, Thurgood says that the initial response has almost overwhelmed the company's production line. The company is already working on new varieties to add to the range.n

Pickles/relishes Ethnic products add some spice

Consumers are no longer content with just using standard pickle in their cheese sandwich or adding mango chutney to their poppadoms. This has led to a raft of new relishes and chutneys entering the category over the past few years - each of them offering something a little different.

These new products have, in part, contributed to the 10.6% increase in value in the category, which now stands at £69m [TNS 52 w/e to 18 June 2006].

In particular, companies have looked to the barbecue season as a way of boosting sales. For example, Premier Foods launched its Branston relish range last year and the company claims the six-strong collection helped turn around what was a declining sector. According to figures from IRI, the £8.3m relish market jumped 19% in the past year [52 w/e 22 July 2006].

"Prior to Branston's entry into the market, the sector was in decline. Branston Relishes have far exceeded expectations, claiming a 32.5% share of the relish sector over the key barbecue season," says Sue Knight, general manager for pickles and sauces.

Although the more traditional offerings are showing good growth, it is the trend towards more ethnic and oriental products that is really setting the pace.

Simon Fry, marketing director at RH Amar, which distributes condiments brands such as Geeta's and Walkerswood, says: "The popularity of ethnic cuisine, particularly Indian, together with a lack of consumer knowledge of how to make chutneys and pickles, means that demand for ethnic offerings is growing. Additionally, consumers are looking for more authentic products."

In a bid to appeal to the more adventurous consumer, Geeta's has added a lime and a chilli recipe to its chutneys range.

Meanwhile, Ross's Pickles is hoping to tickle the nation's tastebuds with its recently launched range of pickles from around the world. Available exclusively in 420 Tesco Extra stores, the World Pickles range showcases favourites from European countries, including Germany, Spain, Greece, the Czech Republic, Italy and also from further afield, such as Mexico.

Premium offerings also continue to gain ground, according to Wilkin & Sons, which recently entered the tomato and brown sauce category with a premium variant.

"Although there has been a Tiptree condiments range for more than 100 years, sales have more than doubled in the past two years," says joint MD Ian Thurgood. "Certainly, it has been our experience that retailer buyers are now more keen to talk about new products at the top end of this sector."

Echoing the trend for convenient and easy packaging across the sauces and condiments market, the squeezy and top-down offerings have also proven a hit when it comes to pickles. Sharwood's has introduced squeezy formats across a number of its chutneys in the past year, most recently its Bengal Spice mango variant, which it says is one of its bestselling flavours.

Tesco also recently jumped on the bandwagon with the launch of a squeezy mango chutney under its own label.

Yet The English Provender Company insists packaging innovation is less important in pickles than other categories, and says it is sticking with its more traditional glass packaging.

"There remains a strong affinity to glass jars, albeit ones that look good on the table and are functional in terms of neck size," says Sally Haydock, marketing manager.

Patak's has also eschewed top-down or squeezy formats for its new range of ethnic condiment sauces. It has launched five varieties - mint & coriander, tandoori BBQ, spicy tomato, tangy fruit and Kashmiri chilli - in tall 180ml glass bottles.

Patak's group MD David Page says that while the packaging is important, authenticity is the main driver for consumers when making a purchase.

"We're really excited to have launched genuinely authentic Indian condiment sauces into the mainsteam fixture. As with all Patak's products, our main objective was to create an authentic range using the highest quality ingredients."

Haydock echoes Page's comments and predicts that growth will be driven by products that perform in taste terms and indicate careful sourcing and processing.

"I believe this is an area where premium brands and own label can continue to benefit. However, more work is needed to educate consumers," she adds. "There is the task of helping consumers understand that condiments can be used more widely than the Sunday lunch scenario."n