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To Everything, There Is a Seasoning

October 28, 2009
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From moviegoers’ interest in foodie flicks such as Julie & Julia to celebrity chefs encouraging people to “kick it up a notch” with their cooking, it’s obvious that America has a strong fascination with interesting recipes that cannot be swayed, even by a nasty recession. That’s good news for spices and seasonings.
 
Data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago, show that overall dollar sales for the spices and seasonings category rose 4.3 percent in the 52 weeks ending July 12 (supermarkets, drugstores and mass market retailers, excluding Walmart), and unit sales increased 1.0 percent. Store brands saw even bigger gains - private label dollar and unit sales jumped 8.9 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.
 
“We have seen significant growth in our private label volumes as consumers have, in fact, traded down from the national brands to private label,” says Steve Thomas, senior vice president of corporate brands at Plano, Texas-based Gel Spice Co. He notes that as a result, retailers are adding products to every tier of their private label programs.
 
Thomas says it’s important that retailers offer more selection in their private label spices and seasonings - as the old adage goes, “Variety is the spice of life.” And consumers want variety in their spices, especially with their increasing interest in exotic cuisines.


Think Globally, Cook Locally

It used to be that one had to go to a Mediterranean-style restaurant to enjoy Mediterranean cuisine. But in these trying times, many consumers have given up their restaurant-frequenting ways and made a compromise: They’ll stick out the recession by dining at home, as long as they can make the same exotic foods they used to get at restaurants.
 
Brett Karminski, private label brand manager at Norway, Iowa-based Frontier National Products, says his company’s strong sales growth reflects consumers’ switch from the restaurant to the kitchen. He also says some of the highest growth is occuring in spices and seasonings that previously were not Frontier’s bestsellers.
 
“This may indicate that as consumers cook more at home, they are expanding their flavor palates to include spices and seasonings they may not have tried before,” Karminski says.
 
Dana Southard, integrated marketing manager at Omaha-based Gilroy Foods & Flavors, agrees with Karminski, saying Americans are craving authentic spices and seasonings commonly found in more exotic cuisines.
 
“Consumers want big, bold flavors,” she says.
 
According to Southard, exotic spices and seasonings gaining in popularity are those found in cuisines from Latin America (chile pepper flavors such as chipotle, jalapeno, ancho, poblano, mulato and habanero) and North Africa (allspice, cinnamon, caraway, cardamom, fenugreek, cumin
and mint).
 
And don’t leave out organics. Retailers can offer organic store brand spices at a cost that’s more attractive to shoppers than the national brand.
 
“When store brands expand their organic portfolios beyond staples like milk and produce, organic spices are a logical next step,” Karminski says.
 
The Global New Products Database from Mintel International Group Ltd., Chicago, shows that retailers released several lines of organic private label spices and seasonings over the last year. Examples include Minneapolis-based Supervalu, with its Wild Harvest Organic fresh baby dill, tarragon and mint varieties; and Milwaukee-based Roundy’s Supermarket Corp., with its Roundy’s Organics sage, dill weed, parsley, rosemary, ground cinnamon and more.
 
Karminski adds that consumers want to make sure the spices and seasonings they purchase were ethically procured, too. Therefore, more retailers are offering fair trade products with labeling to communicate it.
 
“Many consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that were produced in a fair and responsible way,” Karminski says.


Practical Packaging

Along with responsibly procured products comes responsible storage. Since it takes awhile to go through an entire jar of spices, packaging must keep out any air or moisture, which can damage the product. To accomplish this task, Karminski recommends using glass instead of plastic packaging. He also believes it’s important to add a well-designed label for greater shelf impact. Attractive labeling might seem to be an obvious choice in design, but all too often, it is overlooked.
 
Grinders also catch consumers’ attention. Thomas says he’s seeing retailers adding more grinders to their selection because of consumer demand. For its part, Gel Spice is offering value-tier grinders, as well as premium-tier grinders that also boast an innovation not found in national brands: They’re refillable. Thomas says the ability to get multiple lifecycles out of a grinder adds significant value to the consumer. And with consumers becoming more sustainability minded, multiple lifecycles can add significant growth to reusable grinder sales.
 
Other growth opportunities lie in cross-promoting spices and seasonings with foods. Key examples Thomas gives are garlic with bread, seasoned salt with meat, chicken seasoning with chicken, chili powder with red kidney beans, and black pepper with eggs.
 
“Spices are flavor enhancers for all of our favorite foods,” he notes.
 
And don’t dismiss the value of a good recipe. Jeff Brinkhoff, president of Mt. Vernon, Mo.-based Red Monkey Foods, says retailers can support their spice program by educating the consumer through recipes, cooking tips or pairing guides.
 
Southard agrees that retailers should offer recipes with their spices, especially recipes featuring easy-to-prepare foods that can be cooked in bulk and frozen.
 
“Consumers are looking for new recipe ideas and tips on how to deliciously and quickly prepare meats and produce,” she says, noting that if a retailer can tie its private label spices and seasonings in with those recipes, it offers its customers a very practical one-stop solution for their needs.
 
“The consumer is king,” Southard adds. “They are smarter than ever before, and they’re more interested in how they spend their food dollar. Be forthcoming with information, and you will build value, trust and loyalty with your consumers.” PLB


SIDEBAR: A Salty Solution

From cheese fries to bacon to pastrami on rye, Americans have a love affair with salt. Unfortunately, the same ingredient that flavors our favorite comforting treats also can cause serious health problems.
 
“The rapidly rising evidence in the past several years points out sodium as a major cause of hypertension, osteoporosis, kidney damage and stomach cancer,” says David Lockwood, director of consumer insights at Mintel International Group, Chicago. “Because of this scientific knowledge, mixed with that of global health activists, there is a climate forming for rapid change.”
 
According to Mintel, recent data show consumers are starting to pay more attention to their sodium intake, with 52 percent of them monitoring the amount of sodium in their diets. Another way consumers are being more careful about sodium consumption is by replacing their refined table salt with healthier unrefined salt (such as sea salt). Although too much unrefined salt still can be harmful, it offers more nutrients than table salt, and often less of it is needed to flavor foods.
 
Mark Zoske, co-founder of Woodinville, Wash.-based SaltWorks Inc., says refined salt - which is 99.9 percent chloride - loses its naturally occurring minerals and trace elements during the refining process. In contrast, unrefined salt contains up to 80 trace elements and minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium, sulfur and magnesium, all of which are essential for bodily functions.
 
Retailers have released their own unrefined salts over the last year to respond to consumer demand. Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) lists the following examples:
 
• A sea salt grinder from Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS Caremark Corp. GNPD says the product is kosher-certified and all-natural and does not contain iodine.
 
• A grinder containing Himalayan pink salt from Giant Eagle Inc., Pittsburgh. GNPD describes the product as a naturally pink salt mined thousands of feet above sea level in the Himalayan Mountains.
 
• A sea salt grinder from Milwaukee-based Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc.
 
• A sea salt and garlic grinder retailed under Minneapolis-based Target Corp.’s Archer Farms brand. It is said to enhance the flavor of almost all savory recipes.

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