Cook it, pour it, spread it­ the future is in versatile products Changing trends in eating habits offer challenges and opportunities and if jam and spread manufacturers can fulfil consumer demands for quality, convenience and healthy eating, the category's outlook will improve. "The industry needs to extend sweet spreads into other meal occasions and make products appeal to younger consumers," says Steve Wrigley, marketing director of Chivers Hartley. Premium extra jams ­ particularly continental soft serve jams ­ have seen a boom, largely due to growing interest in continental breads and croissants. Products which respond to the drive for healthy eating have also done well, although recent sales of reduced sugar jams have dipped. Duerr's sales and marketing director Richard Duerr says the company's English traditional half sugar Seville orange spread is performing strongly. He attributes this to the product's "honest" name. Organic products, meanwhile, are tipped to be the next success. Chivers Hartley claims its Wm P Hartley range leads the sector, with volume growth of 56%. Baxters has introduced an organic range, and distributor Clark Foods is launching organic extra jam from Danish producer Svanso. A relatively low calorific value is a bonus for organic specialist Meridian Foods' range of fruit spreads, according to brand manager Karen Rhodes. She says consumers are encouraged to experiment. "They use the products in baking, soups, stir fries and as a marinade." This versatility looks set to be an important factor in attracting new consumers. As cooking continues to develop as a leisure activity, new and speciality products lead the way. Argentinian caramel spread Dulce de Leche from Merchant Gourmet also works as a banoffee pie ingredient, and as an accompaniment to ice cream, meringues or pancakes. "It's drawing youthful consumers from other categories," says Ben Haynes, sales and marketing director at Leathams, which acts as distributor. There's no question that the category overall suffers from a rather staid image, but products such as chocolate spread may offer a chance to access a younger audience. Renshaw Scott's new American Adventure theme park promotion on Mississippi Mud, Texas Twister and California Crunch chocolate spreads is aimed at families planning holidays. "The key is having a theme totally appropriate to the target," says product manager Nigel Jones. Meanwhile, Cadbury's Smooth, which Chivers Hartley claims is the fastest growing chocolate spread, is advertised in teen football magazines. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}