Cooking sauce category is feeling the chill

Cooking sauces have not gone unscathed in the recession. Strong brand heritage continues to push the market, but sales of more expensive chilled sauces are down, and dry packet mixes are doing better than wet.

Up again this year, by 3.5% to £742.2m, the sector continues to be dominated by Italian sauces, with sales of market-leading Dolmio up 8.5% to £127.7m.

But Unilever's Knorr, in second place with £49m in sales, is down, as is Premier's Loyd Grossman on £48.3m.

"There has been a reasonable increase in sales," says Co-op international cuisine buyer Salma Khan, though driven by raw material price increases as volumes remained static. "We were 12% up in value but only 2% up in volume, which is ahead of the market. But cooking sauces are well-placed for times like these," she adds.

There has been a lot of focus on healthy living this year, and the new Jamie Oliver pesto and sauce range is performing well, according to Khan.

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Beer and a barbecue is a classic combination for those 43 minutes of sunshine we enjoy in a typical English summer. Not to be discouraged by the British climate, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Vita Speciality Foods and fine foods distributor RH Amar teamed up to offer Budweiser Barbecue Sauces. Packed in beer-style bottles, the six premium sauces and marinades contain between 5% and 15% Budweiser.
Another new entry, Heinz WeightWatchers, is doing even better, making the top 20 with £1.4m sales.

With many shoppers seeking out stranger flavours, McCormick's Schwartz range has jumped two places from seven last year to five, with sales up 10.9% to £36.4m. New launches this year, including dry sauce mixes, packet sauces and Easy Stir Fry blends, all contributed.

Another spicy success in 2008 was Blue Dragon, with sales up 18.1% to £18.4m. The brand launched a Pan Asian premium range in April this year, as well as a new advertising campaign.

Sauces that could do with a push in the right direction include Premier's Bisto, down 21.6% to £6.9m, Discovery Foods' Discovery sauce range, which shows sales down 9.9% to £4.1m, and HP Foods' Amoy, down for the second year running with sales dropping 9.9% to £3.5m. A relaunch is planned for January. Mars' premium brands My Dolmio and Seeds of Change are also flagging somewhat in the downturn.

Khan predicts that more people will trade down to cheaper products, but also sees restaurant-goers trading down to premium cooking sauces as they seek to save money by eating at home.

Given the current economic climate, own label is also becoming an increasingly viable competitor to brands as consumers look to trade down.

View The Grocer's definitive Top Products 2008 survey