Dressings, sauces and marinades
Flavor fusion and experimentation with an eye toward simple labels is driving the category.

KANSAS CITY — Experimentation and simplicity are the trends that have come to define the market for sauces, dressings and marinades. Flavor experimentation comes in the form of combining new, on-trend flavors with traditional tastes and applications, and the clean label trend continues to be a key issue in product development.

Gourmet flavors and a simplified ingredients panel were the driving force between two new lines of salad dressings from Wish-Bone, a business unit of Pinnacle Foods Group, L.L.C., Parsippany, N.J. Wish-Bone E.V.O.O. features a higher amount of olive oil compared to other Italian dressings, according to the company, and comes in such flavors as garlic basil Italian, roasted red pepper, lemon herb, sundried tomato and Caesar vinaigrette. The second line of dressings, called Ristorante Italiano, features such varieties as signature Italian, creamy peppercorn Caesar, garlic Parmesan vinaigrette and roasted garlic balsamic.

“We want to make high-quality ingredients and gourmet flavors available and affordable in the mainstream salad dressings category,” said Mark Schiller, president of Pinnacle Foods.

Ristorante Italiano Dressings
Wish-Bone's Ristorante Italiano salad dressings feature such varieties as signature Italian, creamy peppercorn Caesar, garlic Parmesan vinaigrette and roasted garlic balsamic.

This past March, at the Natural Products Expo West conference held in Anaheim, Calif., there were many small companies trying to gain a larger foothold in the market and exhibiting a variety of interesting sauces, dressings and marinade concepts. For example, Yai’s Thai, Denver, was exhibiting a chili lime hot sauce, a chili garlic hot sauce and a spicy Thai relish.

“We’ve created a completely new way to eat Thai flavors,” said Leland Copenhagen, chief executive officer and co-founder of the company. “By extending these flavors beyond just Thai food, our line makes it easy to bring that flavor and excitement to every meal, and really get creative with it.”

Litehouse Foods, Sandpoint, Idaho, showed off the latest extension to its OPA by Litehouse line of Greek yogurt dressings. The line extension include a pourable Greek yogurt-based dressing that features such flavors as Tzatziki ranch, avocado cilantro, strawberry poppyseed, roasted garlic, and curry. The avocado cilantro variety is a combination of avocado and cotija cheese blended with fresh cilantro and topped with the spicy kick of poblano chilis, according to the company.

Noah Michaels, team leader of Symrise’s culinary group in Teterboro, N.J., said companies are pushing the boundaries of flavor development by mixing the traditional with the new.

“One of the ways to approach introducing new flavors is to combine the familiar with a twist,” he said. “Take habanero, for example. It may be intimidating by itself, but if you combine it with a familiar flavor like orange or grapefruit, then the consumer will view it as approachable.”

He pointed to the trends in green goddess dressing flavors as an example of how the trend is evolving.

OPA Greek Yogurt dressings, Litehouse Foods
OPA by Litehouse debuted pourable Greek yogurt-based dressing that features such flavors as Tzatziki ranch, avocado cilantro, strawberry poppyseed, roasted garlic, and curry.

“It’s gone beyond the classic ranch and is being paired with chipotle, sriracha and teriyaki,” he said. “We’re even seeing flavors like peri peri and chimichurri being pulled in. It’s taking a really old school dressing and making it more relevant.”

Mark Cates, strategic development chef of dressings, sauces and marinades for Cargill, Minneapolis, said his customers, many of which are food service operators, have become more comfortable fusing ethnic cuisines.

“Clients want more refined sauces,” he said. “They are interested in marrying ideas, like a harissa meets Korean and making something out of those profiles. Or sriracha meets a Mexican sauce; developing an Asian-infused flavor with a Latin flavor.”

Ron Spaziani, senior product development chef for Symrise, said Korean flavors are trending with the rise in attention being paid to gochujang.

“It’s a heady mixture of fermentation, umami and garlic,” he said. “It’s something that is working its way into the comfort food space.”

Both Mr. Michaels and Mr. Spaziani also pointed to Thai flavors as being on trend.

“Thai is a good combination of sweet and heat,” Mr. Spaziani said.

Mr. Michaels said the combination of sweet and spicy has become a classic.

“We’ve been tracking spicy in Asia and beyond and are now looking at what is happening in the Middle East with things like zhug,” he said. “It’s a really nice green pepper herb sauce from the Yemen region. We are also looking at things like harissa, which is spicy and hot but also loaded with flavor.”

Catering the demand for clean label

Advances in flavor development and ingredient technologies mean suppliers have the ability to develop any type of flavor, but restrictions related to the ingredients they may include in some formulations have made product and flavor development more challenging in the past few years.

“Most of my clients have a no-no list,” Mr. Cates said. “That means the cost per pound may go up based on the clean label alternatives available.”

Stacie Sopinka, vice-president of product development and innovation for the broadline distributor US Foods, Inc., Rosemont, Ill., has run into similar issues.

“When you remove some of the flavor enhancers, you have to use more of the real ingredient that’s in the product,” she said. “Cheese, for instance, in alfredo sauce. If you look at some of the products on the market, you’ll see there are quite a few flavor enhancers to reinforce the cheese flavor, but in order to get there without any ‘artificials,’ you have to add more real cheese. I think (the challenge is) both achieving a sensory that the end consumer will like and also achieving it at an affordable cost.”

In 2014, Symrise completed the acquisition of the French Diana Group, a manufacturer of natural flavors, with the emerging clean label trend in mind, said Mr. Michaels.

“They work in agronomy at the farmer level to identify the best possible strain for the development of various attributes,” he said. “They can develop corn that is as sweet as possible that can be grown, harvested and processed into powders or concentrates. It gives us the flexibility to develop cleaner label products and meet our customer’s interpretation of clean label.”