Whether it’s a rich pasta sauce for transforming leftovers into a delicious casserole or a spicy hot sauce for kicking up the flavour of a bland dish, sauces have the power to add extra oomph to our meals. With much cooking still being done at home, consumers are really pouring it on when it comes to sauces. According to research from Ipsos, sauce usage in home cooking is up by 22% compared to the pre-pandemic period, says Kathy Perrotta, vice-president of market strategy & understanding at Ipsos.
Indeed, NielsenIQ data for the past two years shows big sales jumps for sauces in Canada from September 2019 to September 2021—meat and seafood sauce sales rose 26% from $109 million to $138 million in that two-year period, for example, while Asian sauces rose 28% from $105 million to $135.5 million, and barbecue sauce sales grew 16% from $74 million to $86 million.
“Young millennial families are still a driving force, but we’ve started to see an elevated interest across many demographics,” says Kelsey McKitterick, category business manager, taste elevation, sauces and away-from-home at Kraft Heinz Canada, adding that the company’s sauce sales were on the rise even before the pandemic. “There has been heightened interest in cooking aids, with both sauces and condiment categories delivering the quick and convenient meal enhancement consumers are looking for during these at-home occasions,” she says. “The pandemic has amplified these sales trends, driving significant growth in the last 18 months.”
More good news, according to McKitterick, is that these strong sales are likely to continue. “Our insights suggest that even in a post-COVID world, a number of these at-home habits will end up continuing,” she says. “Traditional work routines are being disrupted by companies adopting a hybrid or full work-from-home model, resulting in a significant portion of these [eating] occasions continuing to occur within households.”
Perrotta suggests consumer desire for convenient ingredients like sauces is experiencing a resurgence as we settle into new daily routines that are equally as busy as our pre-pandemic ones. “We’ve seen an evolution from those early ‘staycation’ days,” she explains. “The quest for convenience remains as strong, if not stronger, than it did in the pre-pandemic time.”
In addition to convenience, Perrotta says many consumers turn to pre-made sauces because they provide reassurance that their home-cooked meals will turn out tasty. “It ensures the outcome might be better than if I scratch-cooked something,” she says. “The idea of ‘aided cooking’ is not just for time but also for results.”
Richa Gupta, founder of Good Food For Good, a brand specializing in better-for-you sauces, says this idea of creating fast, reliable meals is a big selling point for her customers. “The benefit of sauces is even if you don’t know how to cook things from scratch, they allow you to take those shortcuts but without compromising on quality,” she says.
Digs Dorfman, CEO of Toronto grocer The Sweet Potato, says simplifying cooking seems to be the driving force behind the store’s best-selling sauces. “For instance, we sell a lot of tamari, which most people don’t know how to make at home,” he says. “We also do a decent volume of ketchup and mustards, especially during the summer months, both of which [are sauces] people are unlikely to make at home.”
The pandemic has seen many consumers favouring familiar, staple sauces over more adventurous options. “Consumers have retreated from searching for the latest and greatest and retreated to comfort,” says Perrotta. She adds that home barbecuing saw an increase over the past year as part of this movement towards nostalgic fare, driving a corresponding rise in barbecue sauce sales.
“People went back to things that were on the decline,” she says. “Barbecue sauces and sauces for pasta, they all support that need or that quest for comfort and nostalgia.”
Jonathan Cho, senior brand manager for Conagra’s VH brand, says classics like plum sauce and teriyaki sauce continue to be among VH’s bestsellers. “The classics are classics for a reason,” he says.
That doesn’t mean, however, that innovation is absent in the world of sauces. “We’re seeing increased interest in spicy, rich, and creamy sauces,” says McKitterick. This year, Kraft Heinz also rolled out several fusion-style sauces that combine popular flavours including “hanch” (hot sauce and ranch), “tarchup” (tartar sauce and ketchup) and “wasabioli” (wasabi and garlic aioli), which McKitterick says were inspired by consumer suggestions posted online. “The Heinz ‘crowdsauced’ flavours are recent success stories that highlight the growing trends coming from outside the classic sauce offerings,” she says.
Adam Tully, senior director, food operations for Calgary Co-Op, is also seeing a trend around flavour mashups. “We have noticed different flavour profiles coming out and crossing over,” he says. “We’re seeing a crossover from habanero and sriracha into barbecue sauces .... [and] Frank’s hot sauce now has a line of dipping sauce.”