analysis by Sarah Hardcastle Christmas is the peak period for table sauces, pickles and condiments. Around 20% of all sales take place during Yuletide, so the trade is currently creating extra space for products as part of the festive reshuffle to put top selling lines to the fore. It's a festive boost crucial to a mature market. In some of the more traditional sectors it can mean the difference between a positive and negative sales performance. Overall, the total market, worth £530m, has done well in the last year, achieving a gain of 5.1%, according to ACNielsen [MAT 12 August 2000]. Virtually all sectors have made gains, except sweet pickle and chutney, and tomato ketchup which the Nielsen figures show have taken a tumble. The culprit for sweet pickle's fall in value, says Nestlé condiments category marketing manager David Wilkinson, is Every Day Low Pricing. "Retailers have chopped the price of pickles right across the market which has caused this decline. Our Branston's brand is now neck and neck with own label. Pickle volume is down, too, but that's due to lack of instore visibility. Outside Christmas, pickles drop off people's radar and need the reminder of constant visibility for people to buy them." Asda has driven edlp right across the category, according to its condiments buyer Guy Gordon, a policy that has turned the multiple into the leading retailer in pickles. "EDLP has been very effective in driving volume and has turned pickles from long-term decline into growth," says Gordon. "It's being driven by pickled onions and mixed pickles which fit our consumer profile perfectly, so we feature them heavily in off-shelf space and have rolled back the price to offer better value than other retailers. A 1kg jar of pickled onions has come down from £1.59 a year ago to £1.28 this month. Sales are storming as a result. "We're also seeing good growth in table sauces, with sales up 10%." The fall in prices is certainly shaking up the market which is also having to contend with the decline in hot foods, such as the Sunday roast, and the knock on effect on sales of traditional accompaniments. The Pickles and Sauces Association says the industry has been looking at ways to broaden usage, increase consumption throughout the year and bring younger consumers into the market. "We've helped by producing recipe leaflets to encourage use of these products as recipe ingredients," says chairman Steve Wrigley. Sales of jalapeno peppers, gerkins, capers and pickled walnuts are all up significantly as a result of being promoted in recipes. William Opie, md of premium pickle producer Bennett Opie, says: "Since Delia Smith began using pickled walnuts in casseroles, our pickled walnut sales have gone up dramatically, by 30%. The culinary use of pickles is now a big growth area for us." Among other initiatives, Nestlé is trying to encourage the use of its Branston sweet pickle as a sandwich ingredient. Nestlé's Wilkinson says: "We've done consumer research and found that 69% of sweet pickle is used in sandwiches ­ but only 4% of sandwiches have pickle in them ­ so there's a massive opportunity. We want to do this by doing link promotions with cheese, ham and bread in store." Colman's of Norwich claims success in promoting the culinary usage of mustards and condiments, with sales of its mustard brand up 7% and its condiments up 8.5%. "We are moving away from the traditional image of something that only comes out of the cupboard to go with the Sunday joint, and encouraging year round usage," says category controller Alison Cousin. Ocean Spray says its cranberry sauce range continues to go from strength to strength, driven by the growth of its larger 350g packs, price promotions and major off-shelf promotions. Its course of action to stimulate further growth has been to move into the luxury sector with a gourmet range containing extra fruit, wine and liqueur. Product group manager Hugh Evans says these developments have attracted new users to the brand. Chivers Hartley, which has a major chunk of the sour pickles sector with its Haywards brand, believes the market is entering a period of change with innovation being led by consumer demand for better quality, new and interesting products. "We are working on a number of things for launch next year," says brand manager Stella Laughton. "The market has been very traditional, but now we need to bring in a new, younger audience by meeting their need for more adventurous tastes." A number of manufacturers are already doing this, among them Bennett Opie with its Seriously Pickled range that includes onions in beer and herbs and spicy silverskin onions, and English Provender which has recently launched 10 premium products, each with an unusual twist, such as wild cranberry sauce with burgundy and tartare sauce with olives. Baxters has successfully targeted a new generation of consumers with its contemporary fruit chutneys which have seen sales grow 44% in volume in the last two years. The company plans more contemporary style chutneys over the next two years. One of the big areas of promise is organics, particularly with the arrival of big names such as Heinz which has just launched an organic version of its Tomato Ketchup. Heinz European Sauces md Robin Walker says it is targeted at consumers in the mainstream market who want an organic alternative to the standard product. Rayner Burgess has also moved into organics with its acquisition of Martlet Natural Foods and now has over 30 organic variants. Rayner Burgess' Bayer says the organic business "is growing quite rapidly". Gordon's Fine Foods and Meridian Foods have also made great strides in organics with a host of products. Unsurprisingly, salad accompaniments are booming, being very much in keeping with healthier eating. The whole salad cream sector has benefited from Heinz's efforts to reinvigorate its Salad Cream brand, while Bestfoods' Hellmann's has driven growth with the launch of 50ml mini portions of four variants, plus a new luxury French dressing. Salad dressings has seen a large amount of innovation, and this has undoubtedly captured consumers' imagination and sales. Kraft Foods says creamy white dressings, such as its new cream cheese and chive flavour, is the fastest growing sector, though vinaigrette still accounts for more than half of dressings' sales by volume. Trading controller Doug McGowan says salad dressings' aspirational image, which held back sales to mainstream consumers, is slowly vanishing. The number of households buying them rose 3% to 34% in the last year. Chivers Hartley, which launched the Loyd Grossman premium range last year, also sees considerable mileage in dressings. "Convenience is at the heart of increasing salad consumption, yet only 12% of salads are currently being dressed," says brand marketing controller Yvonne Adams. The Lloyd Grossman dressings brand, which includes unusual flavours such as green Thai, coconut & lemongrass, is now worth £1.6m. The vinegar market, worth £22.5m last year [ACNielsen Scantrak], is still dominated by malt/pickling products with 84% volume, though speciality vinegars are gaining ground, their value share rising from 35% to 42% in the last three years. In contrast, balsamic and malt vinegar sales are static, which led Nestlé to invest in a full scale category study to reinvigorate the market for its Sarsons and Dufrais brands. Nestlé says Sarsons malt vinegar has the largest (37%) brand share of the market. It now faces fresh competition from Heinz which this summer stepped into the speciality arena with six products that include aged balsamic, red and white wine, salad, malt and distilled malt vinegars made under licence by Hazlewood Foods. "No major brand has taken hold of the category and driven it forward, and as a result consumer penetration has fallen," says Heinz's Walker. "We want to emulate our success in the US where Heinz Vinegar is the leading brand." {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}