Snap Kitchen offers internationally-inspired bowls like the Mediterranean Mezze Bowl with beet hummus and cashew tzatziki.

CHICAGO — When Sergio Villegas mistakenly read a half Buffalo/half garlic order for wings at Paisans Pizzeria & Bar, a suburban Chicago family-owned restaurant chain, he mixed the two sauces together and tossed the wings. The server made him redo the order for accuracy, while the staff sampled his new creation and liked it. Since, he has fine-tuned the recipe, which is now featured on the menu and is described as “our signature mild Buffalo wings tossed with a savory garlic butter and topped with Parmesan.”

Trial and error is how many sauces are created. Culinary professionals add layers of flavor, often with a kick of heat, to take today’s consumers on the flavor adventure they crave. They do this increasingly while being mindful of nutrition and ingredient statements.

“One of the easiest ways for chefs to address consumer demand for variety is with sauces,” said Kate Leahy, spokesperson for Sunsweet Ingredients.

Paisans Pizzeria & Bar garlic buffalo wings, condiments
Paisans Pizzeria & Bar offers Buffalo wings tossed with garlic butter.

Home cooks, too, recognize the ease-in-use and versatility of cooking and condiment sauces. Manufacturers are responding through enticing innovations ranging from regional barbecue to globally inspired hot sauces.

Healthy options drive growth

Consumer demand for condiment and cooking sauces helped the market reach $24 billion in sales in 2016, according to a report by market research firm Packaged Facts. Annual retail sales have been growing at a rate of about 2%, and comparable growth is anticipated through 2021.

“Sauce formulators need to be aware that, while consumers want to explore ethnic cuisines and flavor fusions, they are also looking to make better-for-you dietary choices,” Ms. Leahy said.

Condiments and sauces
Consumer demand for condiment and cooking sauces helped the market reach $24 billion in sales in 2016.

“Sauces are increasingly being marketed as organic and healthy, with new options such as low-sodium or low-sugar varieties supporting restrictive diets,” said David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts. “Marketing products as certified organic or carrying ‘free-from’ labels has become part of several trends that will help keep sauces and condiments popular with a range of influential consumers,” he said.

Premiumization in terms of flavor profiles, ingredient sourcing and authentic recipes is driving growth of the shelf-stable sauce category. Such specialty sauces represent about 20% of the category, and they are expected to continue to grow about 5% annually in dollar sales, according to the Specialty Foods Association. Cooking sauces, flavored mayonnaise and hot sauces contribute the most to sales, with cooking sauces, which provide consumers kitchen shortcuts, accounting for about 40% of total sales. Not surprisingly, millennials’ affinity for convenient fresh meals is driving innovation and category growth.