Spaghetti bolognese pasta

Source: Pexels

Struggling brands have been adding trendier NPD in response to falling sales

Cooking sauces were always going to struggle against the tough comparables of last year. As Covid restrictions eased, Brits spent less time cooking at home – resulting in a £31.1m slump in sauce sales.

But amateur cooks aren’t hanging up their oven gloves just yet. The category’s £948.2m value is still more than £100m higher than that reported in 2019, points out NielsenIQ senior insight analyst Adam Paulson.

Crucially for the performance of individual brands, what they’re cooking is changing. “The increase in meals at home is driving shoppers to increase their diversity,” Paulson says. That means more familiar cuisines like Italian have taken a hit in favour of flavours from further afield – particularly Far Eastern and Tex Mex.

For proof, see the positive performances racked up by the likes of Kikkoman, Blue Dragon and Lee Kum Kee – as well as General Mills brand Old El Paso.

The latter is a particular success story. Having claimed the number one spot in 2020, the Mexican brand has cemented its lead with a £8.9m gain this year. This growth is partially down to a growing awareness of Mexico in pop culture such as the Disney movie Coco, says General Mills’ marketing manager for meals & baking, Maeve Judge.


Also, Old El Paso mounted a major push urging families to host ‘Fajita Fridays’, and expanded its range of Tortilla Pockets – wraps with a sealed bottom to minimise mess. Their success reflects “the fact that consumers are looking for easy meal solutions” says Judge. “It’s a really exciting time for the total world foods category.”

Not so exciting for the less exotic brands, though. Former category leader Dolmio, for instance, has haemorrhaged £15.2m, while fellow Italian brands Napolina and Saclà are down by 33.8% and 1.7% respectively.

In response, many struggling brands have been adding healthier and trendier NPD, notes Paulson. “New products in no/reduced sugar and vegan cooking sauces have been in growth, capitalising on the health and wellbeing trend. This is particularly true in Italian.”

For Dolmio, that’s meant the September launch of Mediterranean Roasted Veg, Sun Ripened Tomato & Basil and Sun Ripened Tomato & Chilli pasta sauces – each containing seven different vegetables.

Similarly, Premier rolled out reduced fat, lower sugar and plant-based sauces for its Sharwood’s and Loyd Grossman brands – the latter of which has shed £4m – in July.

The likes of Sharwood’s Deliciously Vegan (see below) will, says Premier brand director for cooking sauces & accompaniments Andrey Sokirkin, meet “shoppers’ desire to buy healthier products”.

Top Launch 2021

Sharwood’s Deliciously Vegan | Premier

Sharwoods - Deliciously Vegan Korma

Source: Sharwoods

Many traditional Indian dishes are plant-based by nature. But the British, milder versions often necessitate dairy products in Indian-inspired cooking sauces. Which, of course, excludes vegan consumers from the category. So, in July, Premier Foods added plant-based versions of Sharwood’s popular Tikka Masala and Korma variants (£1.79/420g). The Deliciously Vegan duo eschew yoghurt and cream in favour of coconut derivatives for creaminess.

The Grocer’s Top Products Survey 2021: who’s up, who’s down – and our overview of the key trends