It all went the way of own-label table sauces in the first half of the year but in the second half the brands fought back

It’s been a year of two halves for table sauces. For the first six months, the big brands seemed to be in denial about the recession, doing little to raise their games to adapt to the new, more challenging conditions – and playing right into the hands of own-label players.

In the second half of the year, however, they started to fight back by becoming more recession-focused and aggressive in their targeting to win market share back. And to a certain extent their efforts have paid off.

Although own-label sales have soared 22.6% this year – well ahead of growth across the category as a whole – 14 of the top 20 sauce brands have also posted growth above the 13.8% category average.

This year’s fastest growers have been smaller brands such as Branston ketchup, Nando’s hot sauce and Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae BBQ sauce, sales of which were up 193.1%, 67.7% and 56% respectively.

Branston can even claim to have had a positive effect on overall category growth this year having finally achieved critical mass as a brand, says Asda buying manager for condiments and cooking sauces, Ged Futter. “People who in the past would only ever buy Heinz or Hellmann’s have been prepared to switch to Branston,” he says, adding that the brand has also created more opportunities for promotional activity – vital in a recession.

That said, the bigger and more established brands have also had a pretty strong year. Heinz tomato ketchup marketing manager Ian McCarthy is certainly pleased with the number one sauce brand’s performance even if growth did lag slightly behind overall category growth. Strong advertising has only served to reinforce consumer loyalty, he says.

However, the recession has meant there has been limited NPD this year, with brands pushing out new variants rather than totally new products. Heinz launched HP Hot Sauces and reintroduced its With a Twist range as Heinz Twisted Ketchup to capitalise on the popularity of spicier sauces. “Consumers’ taste palates are changing and hot and spicy sauces are well liked,” says McCarthy, who promises new launches for Heinz in 2010.

Despite the challenges ahead, there’s a lot to look forward to, believe Futter and McCarthy. Both predict a World Cup-related surge in sales – and that the big brands will be in the game from kick-off this time.

Top launch: Branston Mayo with a Twist, Premier Foods
When Asda’s condiments buyer describes your product as “probably the most successful piece of NPD in the past couple of years”, you know you’ve done something right. Branston must be pretty chuffed with the range of four flavoured mayonnaises it unveiled in March. At the time of launch, Premier said it expected the range to add oomph to the flavoured mayonnaise category, and it has hit sales of £2.2m since then.

Top Products Survey 2009