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Getting Saucey!

A growing appetite for global flavours is driving up sales of ethnic sauces.

It’s no secret that grocery shoppers are becoming more adventurous–especially when trying world cuisine. But they may not have the time, or the talent, to make entire new meals from scratch. “That’s where sauces come in,” says Louise Kramer, communications director for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade in New York City.

Sauces are definitely catching on. At the association’s 2012 Sofi awards, celebrating the best in specialty foods and beverages, some 150 products competed for the title of Outstanding Cooking Sauce or Flavour Enhancer. That was 20 per cent more entries than the previous year, Kramer says. Overall, sales of condiments, dressings and marinades are up 8.4 per cent in the U.S. over the past three years. In Canada, meanwhile, Euromonitor expects retail sales of sauces, dressings and condiments to experience two per cent compounded annual growth up to 2016.

Kramer chalks up consumer interest in sauces to several factors. One is TV cooking shows, which have turned consumers on to international dishes and ingredients. Another is celebrity chefs. Many now have their own lines of globally influenced sauces.

George Bachoumis has seen these two trends collide firsthand. He’s the general manager of McEwan, a specialty grocer in Toronto that’s owned by restaurateur and Top Chef Canada judge Mark McEwan. Bachoumis has crossed paths with plenty of customers eager to replicate McEwan’s creations at home. Sauces make it easy. “You buy a chicken, and then you add the butter chicken sauce. All of a sudden you’ve got an Indian dish,” Bachoumis explains.

With that in mind, here are five trends in ethnic sauces to look out for and, perhaps, stock up on.

INDIAN. It was one of the first ethnic sauces to go mainstream, and Indian shows no signs of losing its appeal. Why? Indian sauces make recreating traditionally labour and ingredient-intensive recipes a cinch at home. And chefs like Vancouver’s Vikram Vij have added a gourmet twist, with prepackaged versions of their signature dishes.

ASIAN. The big cooking sauce winner at this year’s Sofi awards was Kimkim Korean Hot Sauce, which uses hot pepper paste for an added kick. Hot sauces in general are on the rise. “Health drives a lot of the trends, and strong, exciting flavours can take the place of a lot of bad ingredients,” says Kramer. On the flavour flip-side, sweeter Asian sauces are also attracting attention. For instance, Japanese yuzu juice, which is used in everything from cocktails to desserts.

SWEET AND SAVOURY. This unlikely flavour combination has already taken the confection industry by storm (think salted caramel and kettle corn). Now it’s headed to sauces. At this year’s Sofi awards, several such sauces were unveiled. Among them: Fischer & Wieser’s apricot-infused curry and Ritrovo’s puttanesca sauce. It was a gold winner in the pasta sauce category thanks in part to its special secret ingredient: raisins.

LOCAL GLOBAL. Tagged as one of the top five trends at this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, local-global sauces put a contemporary regional spin on traditional recipes. To taste this trend, keep an eye out for Chulita’s Famous, which updates the classic Caribbean sauce sofrito via New York City, as well as sauces from Wild Thymes Farm, an American company that’s adapted Moroccan flavours for a new style of barbecue sauce.

MADE-IN-HOUSE SAUCES. McEwan is just one of many stores that’s created its own line of sauces made on site. The grocer offers pasta sauces, curries, relishes and even a truffle infused mac-and-cheese sauce. These sauces are geared to locally minded customers. Odds are these customers also like the fact they’re getting a fresher product, too.

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