Table sauces have lost their bottle. Category sales have fallen 1.4% - reversing the 2.7% value growth enjoyed by the category the previous year - on volumes down 3.5%.

A key reason for this disappointing performance has been the patchy weather, according to Jon Walbancke, marketing manager for dressings at Unilever UK. “We had a relatively poor summer,” he says. “In August, the weather was terrible and this is such a weather-related category.”

Despite the damp BBQ season, some brands weathered the storm better than others. Although Hellmann’s saw value sales of some of its ‘lighter’ option brands slump, its flagship ‘Real’ mayonnaise fared well. “People are looking for products that are healthier, but they’re not willing to compromise on taste,” explains Walbancke.

table sauces tpt

Another brand bucking the trend is Heinz Ketchup, which saw value sales growth of 2.6% on volumes up 1.8%, building on its impressive performance of last year. Heinz largely attributes its success to the heavy investment in marketing, with a £3m ‘BBQ heroes’ cross-category multi-platform campaign running from May to September.

Deals remain vital, although the volume of sales on deal this year fell by 6% points to 42%, with the volume of ketchup sold on-deal falling by 11% points to 42%. “We’ve found round-pound deals still extremely attractive to consumers, especially when coupled with off-shelf activity,” says Lisa Leung, brand manager for Encona Sauces.

So simple price cuts aren’t the only way to get us back on the sauce. ”Asda has recognised the need for shopper engagement and interruption given that traditional table sauces are struggling to drive volume growth,” says Declan Lockett, marketing director at All About Food. “Asda worked with us to launch a full Nando’s bay within the aisle in 47 large stores to interrupt auto-pilot shoppers and drive weight of purchase through increased basket spend.”

The other factor driving basket spend this year is NPD. Half of the value growth in the category - £8.6m out of £15.2m - came from products launched in the past year. “Consumers seem to be either buying into hot or mild flavour variants,” says Leung. “We expect consumer interest in hotter flavours will continue to grow; however, interest in milder variants seems to be an emerging trend.”

It’s a view shared by Lockett, whose growing range of chilli sauces demonstrates that heat is no longer everything. “The mild selection of hot sauces is likely to continue to grow,” he says. “It also acts as an entry point for people who may not have been introduced to the category before.

jerk sauce

Top launch: Chilli sauces Heinz

In March, Heinz launched ‘thick’ versions of the Sweet Chilli, Jerk BBQ, Peri Peri and Hot Pepper (rsp: £1.69/220ml) variants that have proved so successful as ‘thin’ sauces.

“We’re a nation of spicy shoppers,” says Emily Frank, senior brand manager for salad cream, mayonnaise and condiments at Heinz. “The launch reflects our commitment to developing new and exciting products that respond to consumer trends.” The thicker variants can be used either as a dip or to marinate and glaze meat.