Kicking it up a notch with sauces

by Allison Gibeson
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A restaurant owner may want to mix up their menu to offer variety but has a limited budget to do so. A family eating at home more often due to the recession may want to dress up some traditional dishes in an effort to add more variety to the meal occasion. Sauces are currently being used to accomplish both goals.

“(Sauces are) a way you can utilize some of your mainstay ingredients — chicken breasts, steaks, burgers — but then utilize sauces to create some fresh and exciting menu options for customers because everyone is fighting for that same dollar right now,” said Jeff Smith, vice-president of sales and marketing with JMH Premium, Park City, Utah.

Mr. Smith said Latin and Asian flavors are becoming popular with sauces, and he said the popularity of these flavors meet a variety of consumer interests.

“It’s not necessarily too bold, it’s not necessarily too conservative — you meet a wide variety of consumer desires that are in the marketplace as opposed to being perhaps too specialized on something too spicy or a flavor profile that is very specific,” Mr. Smith said. “People can utilize these types of sauces with these flavor bases more broadly.”

Melanie Brechka, national sales manager with Hormel Specialty Products, Austin, Minn., said hot and spicy may be popular, and Hormel has specific flavors. For example, the company has a Mongolian fire oil, hot chili sesame oil and a ginger-flavored soy sauce. She described the flavors as “kicking

it up a notch” from basic sauces such as ketchup, and while the flavors aren’t new to the company, the demand for the products is. The company also has Singapore curry oil, wok oil, mandarin marinade, spicy brown bean sauce, and Korean teriyaki and Bangkok padang peanut stir fry sauces.

Ms. Brechka sees consumers as most interested in fusion flavors or the combination of various flavors. She said it is becoming common to combine some Asian and Mexican flavors together to come up with a new flavor.

“It’s like taking grandma’s home-cooked meal and kicking it up a few notches,” Ms. Brechka said.

As ethnic flavors become popular in the United States, the opportunity to mix-and-match is becoming more commonplace.

The downturn in the economy has led more people to get back to the basics of cooking, Ms. Brechka said. She said people have more time but less money, so they have more time to cook but want to spice up their dishes and are willing to try new things in an affordable way.

Mr. Smith said his customers are looking for simple label options that represent minimal processing, but the difficulty comes into play when not everyone defines simple labeling in the same way.

“Customers have different requirements when it comes to clean label,” Mr. Smith said. “When you talk about clean label, what is defined by one customer is not necessarily how another customer might define it. It’s very important you listen to a customer and understand what their needs are with regard to a clean label.”

In addition, because sauces may be used in so many applications, it may be hard to know exactly how the end user will use it.

“The greatest challenge is to translate a chef’s recipe into a formula that can be replicated in a manufacturing environment,” Mr. Smith said. “All of our recipes begin with our chefs but have to be translated to where we can commercially produce them yet maintain the culinary attributes our clients are looking for. Equally challenging is understanding the requirements for how our finished product will be used by the end customer.”

Ms. Brechka said the biggest challenge her company faces is to develop flavors with a simple label and to do it at a competitive price point. She said one way they have worked to do this is to try to break down their products into the basic ingredients and allow the customers and ingredient suppliers to use those so they may develop what they need with minimal processing. Creating products with a simple label for soups, stocks and broths is particularly challenging, she said, and the company hopes to bring more products with a simple ingredient label in the future.

Consistent with these trends, Stockpot Soups and Fortun Foods, Seattle, has a line of Fortun’s Finishing Touch Sauces that come in 12 varieties that are inspired from around the world and are marketed as having top-quality, natural ingredients.

“We have partnered with wonderful retailers on the West coast who share our passion for providing healthy cooking options that don’t sacrifice flavor,” said Kevin Fortun, founder of Stockpot Soups and Fortun Foods. “Our continuing expansion is helping more and more families transform casual cooking into gourmet meals that the entire family will love.”

Ms. Brechka also said consumers are interested in foods with benefits. The trend is something to consider with sauces in the future, and she mentioned omega-3 fatty acids might be an area of interest.

Jungbunzlauer, a Swiss-based company, is offering a salt replacer and zero-calorie sweetener called sub4salt and Erythritol. The products are intended to help manufacturers develop sauces with appealing consumer attributes such as low or no sodium.

“In the sauces market I would expect that moving forward in the next couple years you are going to start to see sauces that provide more than just flavor,” Ms. Brechka said. “We are not there yet per say, but who is to say we are not going to move forward with sauces that have some health benefit to them?”

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