KANSAS CITY – The NPD Group’s recent release about the growing popularity of hot sauces underscores how far many consumers have come in their quest for flavor adventure. This openness is a welcome development for product developers seeking cost-effective ways to extend product lines and differentiate.

The Chicago-based market research firm found 56% of households have hot sauce in their kitchens. The Asian hot sauces sriracha is stocked in 9% of total U.S. households and 16% of households headed by someone under age 35. The trend also extends to food service, which has seen a double-digit increase in the number of cases of hot sauce shipped from food service distributors to restaurant operators.

The NPD Group’s findings were supported by a survey conducted by Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich. The ingredient supplier found 80% of the consumers surveyed said they enjoy hot and spicy foods, and more than half said they eat hot and spicy foods at least once per week. Snacks and soups were identified as the most common hot and spicy foods consumers have tried during the past year, according to Kalsec. Thai food was the most common hot and spicy cuisine tried in the past year while curry was the most common ingredient.

Jalapeño, cayenne and chipotle were the most preferred pepper sources, but habanero, poblano and peri peri peppers were identified as rising in popularity.

“Our research not only confirms the continued, strong consumer demand to include hot and spicy foods as some part of their menu plant, but a desire to experience heat levels in a variety of new ways,” said Gary Augustine, executive director of market development for Kalsec.

As this trend moves forward, fusion is going to become a key point of differentiation as companies merge heat with sweet and continue to add spice to such traditional American comfort foods as macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and more. That consumers have become more welcoming of such diverse flavor adventures is positive. The challenge for product developers will be to continue to surprise and delight consumers with engaging concepts and unique flavor combinations.