Only the strong survive

by Eric Schroeder
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Recent consumer surveys have shown that interest in products that deliver a little “zest” are on the upswing. Partly because of the growing Hispanic market — which favors products with a bit more bite — and partly because of a trend away from traditional flavors, products with a spicy profile are making their mark.

That mark is being made most often in the snack segment, where consumers are more open to testing their taste buds with new flavors.

Mark Singleton, vice-president of sales and marketing at Rudolph Foods Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio, said that while the seasoning game is complicated, once you get one right, “boy it works.” Rudolph hopes to have hit the right note with the chile and lime flavor that is appearing across the company’s product portfolio.

“It’s flavorful with lime,” Mr. Singleton said of the spicy citrus flavor that is appearing in the company’s Chicharinas wheat snacks and Colossal Cracklins pork rind products. “The intent was not to get red hot, it was to get full flavor. You see fajitas being served with a twist of lime. With the broadening of taste, we think this has a wonderful historical appeal, but also has great cross-over appeal.”

In addition to the chile and lime flavor, Mr. Singleton said Rudolph will be offering “wet seasoning” packets alongside several products, providing consumers a chance to flavor their own products. The company also is launching a bold and spicy BBQ flavor in its Colossal Cracklins line and has been testing a buffalo wing flavor for the past several months, he said.

“Only the best tasting products survive,” he said. “There is amazing competition for the consumer’s dollar today.”

Two other snack food companies expanding spicy in their product portfolios are Wise Foods Inc., Berwick, Pa., which recently introduced Jalapeño Cheddar Crunchy Cheez Doodles, and The Inventure Group, Inc., Phoenix, which has found success in its growing line of Burger King snack chips. According to Inventure, its recently launched Hot & Spicy Onion Ring product is expected to add to the emerging trend of “hot-flavored” foods, which climbed 75% during 2009 according to data from AC Nielsen Co., New York.

Bringing a “snack kick” to the popcorn category is Orville Redenbacher’s, a brand of Omaha-based ConAgra Foods, Inc. The company in January added two cheesy flavors to its microwave popcorn line, one of which was Spicy Nacho.

“This is the first ‘spicy’ cheese variety offered with the Orville Redenbacher’s line,” said Sarah Testa, senior brand manager for Orville Redenbacher’s. “Through our consumer research we’ve known that cheese-based flavors, like Spicy Nacho, have broad appeal. Consumers are interested in multiple cheese flavor offerings. Through consumer research, we’ve found that among leading chip brands, both regular and spicy cheese flavors rank among the top s.k.u.’s.”

The inclusion of spicy flavors has not been limited to the snack aisle, though. At the recent Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, Calif., Cedarlane Natural Foods, Inc., Carson, Calif., introduced a Turkey Sausage & Shrimp Jambalaya frozen entree. The new product includes Basmati rice tossed with spicy turkey sausage, shrimp and vegetables.

Cedarlane also offers a full line of burritos, wraps and vegetarian entrees, many of which pack some punch, including a stuffed Roasted Chile Relleno meal. The entree features a heart shaped poblano pepper that is stuffed with cheeses, cilantro, green onion and spices.

Spicing up food service

While spicy flavors continue to play a role in supermarkets — primarily through the snack aisle — things are heating up at restaurants across the United States as well.

Boston-based Uno Restaurant Holdings Corp. earlier this month said it will celebrate its New Orleans Jazz Festival of Flavors with the introduction of new Cajun and Creole flavors beginning April 13 and running through May.

The spicy new menu items at Uno will include Chicken Sausage Gumbo, Voodoo Bones with Bourbon BBQ Sauce, Jambalaya Deep Dish pizza, Creole Shrimp on Fresh Pappardelle and Blackened Chicken Fettuccine. The Blackened Chicken Fettuccine item features blackened spiced chicken with spinach, plum tomatoes, mushrooms, jalapeño alfredo sauce and fettuccine.

Also hitting the market is a new spicy chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A, Atlanta. Tested in Baltimore and Jacksonville, Fla., for more than two years, the spicy chicken sandwich is being tested in South Florida with plans to officially launch the sandwich in June at a price of $3.15, or about 30c above the price of the chain’s classic chicken sandwich. The introduction is noteworthy in that it will mark Chick-fil-A’s first new sandwich since 1989, when the restaurant chain launched a char-grilled version.

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