Condiments are ubiquitous in our everyday lives. Ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, salt and pepper occupy our pantries, fridges and are within arm’s reach at restaurant tables. That makes condiments and sauces a profitable industry. In 2017, revenue from sauces and condiments amounted to $43.88 million or an average of $134.58 per shopper (1). It’s also projected to grow 4.2% by 2021. Despite its ubiquity, the category is far from static, as people’s tastes and diets are constantly changing.

Changing DietsA major change in nutrition science, though still debated, is the greater acceptance of fats, specifically unsaturated fats such as polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, olive oil, butter, fish and lean cuts of meat from pork and grass-fed beef. This completely changed the way people approached their diets, in some cases adopting dietary regimens such as the popular paleo diet in which people cut out grains and processed foods and eat foods that more closely align with those eaten by ancient hunter-gatherers (fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs). Similarly, though less restrictive, people also adopted low-carb, high fat diets, also known as a ketogenic diet.

While these dietary changes may seem inconsequential in terms of condiments, if you consider the broader definition of condiments as anything designed to add flavor to food, this covers a variety of products that go well beyond one’s preconceived notions of red and yellow squeeze bottles. It’s about how people cook, prepare and season their food daily. Items like butter and coconut oil are rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCT), a fatty acid that is easy for the body to break down for energy as opposed to getting energy from carbohydrates (2). Coconut oil and butter contain 15% and 6.8% MCTs, respectively, of particular benefit to those consuming minimal carbs.

Coconut oil is also a popular alternative to butter for those who have cut out meat and dairy, opting for a vegan or plant-based lifestyle. They can use it for cooking, baking and there are also coconut spreads for sandwiches. For those comfortable with eating an animal-based product, an alternative to both butter and coconut oil is ghee. “Butter is water, fat and cream,” explains Raquel Tavares Gunsagar, founder and CEO of Fourth and Heart, based in Los Angeles, CA. “When you make ghee you’re actually removing the water and the cream or the dairy solids, so you’re essentially cooking butter until the water evaporates and then you’re filtering out the milk solids. It’s essentially just clarifying the butter and it’s different because clarified butter is cooked for a shorter period of time. Ghee cooks for longer and has more of a nutty taste to it.”

This makes ghee a dairy-free alternative to butter and while not vegan, it has become popular among those on the paleo diet. “Ghee has been moved forward by the Whole30 diet, and the keto diet and the paleo diet primarily because these diets call for dairy-free,” says Gunsagar. “Most of them were using coconut oil and that has a distinct flavor most of the time and it’s hard to cook with because it has a low smoke point. So now, boring diets that tasted like coconut oil or got burned because of cooking in coconut oil, take on a new life [with ghee].”

A more recent diet that is really gaining steam is the low FODMAP diet. This is a diet designed for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). People with IBS experience uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea and constipation from both dietary and external stressors. However, a low FODMAP diet which restricts poorly absorbed short chain carbohydrates has been shown to help manage symptoms of IBS. FODMAP stands for fermentable, oligosaccharides (Fructans and Galacto-oligosaccharides — Wheat, Rye, Barley, Onions, Garlic, Legumes), disaccharides (Lactose — Milk, Yogurt, Ice Cream), monosaccharides (Fructose — Honey, Watermelon, Apples, Pears) and polyols (Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, Xylitol — Apples, Apricots, Cauliflower, Chewing gum) (3).

According to FODMAP Dietetics, when a person with IBS eats FODMAP-rich food, the sugars “are not completely absorbed in the small intestine, the sugars continue to move through to the large intestine where a large colony of bacteria is present. This bacteria then begins to ferment the malabsorbed sugar, producing hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide gases. The production of this gas can result in uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms including: bloating, stomach pain, stomach noises, flatulence, constipation and diarrhoea.”

Companies like FODMAPPED for You! specifically make low FODMAP food and sauces, while others will create SKUs certified as FODMAP Friendly or Low FODMAP to target this demographic. There is a particularly great opportunity for low FODMAP in the sauce and condiment category because so many are made from FODMAP-rich ingredients like onions and garlic, and so many dishes require a sauce. This is no small portion of the population, either. According to the International Foundation of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, the prevalence of IBS worldwide ranges between 10-15% (4). A small Statista survey, of 565 respondents over 18 years of age, showed that 20% of respondents claimed to suffer from IBS (5).

Companies like Rao’s Homemade are dipping their toes into this market, understanding it’s important to target this cross-section of consumers. “We created the Sensitive Marinara version because we saw a demand for our classic Marinara Sauce, without the onion and garlic flavor profiles; due to people’s taste preference or the dietary effects of those ingredients,” says Jim Morano, head of sales and customer strategy at Rao’s Homemade, based in New York City, NY. “As with all our sauces, Rao’s Homemade Sensitive Marinara Sauce contains a simple list of quality, farm-fresh ingredients...but without the subtle flavors of garlic and onion. The Sensitive Marinara Sauce is free from some ingredients which are categorized as high FODMAP foods, is vegan, gluten-free and suitable for Whole30 and Paleo diets.”

It is significant for companies like Rao’s to take this leap because while they are trying to preserve cultural flavors and qualities in their products, they understand that the traditional way of doing things can also alienate certain people. “Since Rao’s Homemade products first came on the market in the 1990s (previously they could only be enjoyed in the Rao’s family restaurants), we have always observed people’s reactions to our sauces, pastas, vegetables, oils and dressings, as well as acknowledge changes in the food and dining landscape,” says Morano. “While traditional Italian cuisine and authentic ingredients will always be at the heart of our food, we know there are some diets and taste buds looking for other options.”

Low FODMAP products save time for people struggling with IBS as well as the parents of someone with IBS because they won’t have to cook something special and also have more options available. In general, consumers are picking foods that are more easily digestible. That is why many opt for non-dairy milk alternatives and the like. Ghee is a similar option in that it is dairy free and Gunsagar says it has some extra benefits. “It’s also considered a gut friendly food, because of the stearic acid produced in the making of ghee and it is something found in the lining of your gut so it helps your body metabolize food and vitamins better,” she says.

Beyond that, demand for products that fit a particular diet can be profound. “I see a lot of [products for] specialized diets and with social media it’s easy for information to be shared very quickly and when people that are on special diets use our products, others will see that and will then come forward looking for those items from us or their retailer,” says Patrick Ford, VP of Ford’s Gourmet Foods, maker of Bone Suckin’ Sauce, based in Raleigh, NC, whose products were gluten-free long before it became a fad. These products bring people to the store because they will see something online in an article or from a peer that piques their interest and the next time they’re in your store may look for something gluten-free, paleo-friendly or low FODMAP.

Diversity in FlavorWhen it comes to food, no one wants to eat the same things over and over. There is the desire to try different cuisines, adapt old recipes to new ingredients and be as creative as possible. Condiments and sauces are no different. Ethnic flavors and styles may be the best ways to capture the attention and imagination of consumers. According to Food Dive, the category has experienced a 2% uptick compared to the previous five years (6). Some of the big trends driving this growth are exotic flavors and new twists on familiar classics. Apparently, millennials are the main demographic responsible for this.

“Millennials, who represent 23.4% of the U.S. population, according to Census Bureau data, are always looking for healthier but still flavorful sauces and condiments,” states the article. “This demographic has helped boost the market for exotic flavored sauces, including the now ubiquitous Sriracha. As new food trends include more unique flavor profiles from Africa and Asia, look for new condiments and sauces featuring these spices.”

At its most basic, this can mean flavors that provide a real spicy kick, such as sriracha mentioned earlier. “We have a lot of people walk up to the booth [at a trade show] and ask, ‘What’s your hottest thing?’” says Ford. “That’s definitely different than it was 5-10 years ago.”

Bone Suckin’, for example, recently released a wing sauce that is Honey & Habanero flavored. This product leverages the popularity of wing sauces while not going the “me-too” route, instead providing an interesting alternative to the wing sauces already on the shelf.

For condiments that either fill a need for someone on a special diet or simply round out a particular category (ie. wing sauce, ketchup, etc.), there is a need to break the monotony. Coconut oil needed that break. Firms like Ellyndale and Primal Essence, have infused coconut oils with flavors like chili, Thai and Indian curry, and Italian herbs, giving the already popular oil a broader flavor profile for people to work with. Gunsager made a good point in saying that coconut oil has a specific taste that will be added to any dish, unlike olive oil, which is more neutral. While infused coconut oils do not give a neutral flavor, if someone wants the fat content of coconut oil, but wants more layered and interesting flavors — without having to take the trouble to season it themselves — it is an excellent option.

This is about convenience as much as flavor. Gunsager states, “[We chose a garlic flavor] because bread and garlic go really well together, so you can make shrimp scampi or garlic bread, or anything they would like sautéed in garlic but without having to peel a clove of garlic again.”

Products designed for a specific diet are inherently about convenience, but the flavors need to be appetizing, too. FODMAPPED for You!­­ for example, gives consumers sauces that are both familiar and new, such as pasta sauces and varieties of curry sauces. South Asian flavors have become major sellers as reflected by their popularity in restaurants.

Consumers know what they want. They want strong, delicious flavors and they want to feel good. For some, that means not eating certain things. Condiments and sauces are important factors in achieving this. Manufacturers are quickly filling these need states and retailers should be right behind them, stocking their shelves with unique, diet-friendly condiments and sauces that will draw in the clientele and make you a trusted source. WF

  1. “Sauces and Condiments,”
  2. “MCT Oil: What you Need to Know,”
  3. “The Low-FODMAP Diet,” FODMAP Nutrition and Dietetics,
  4. “About IBS: Statistics”
  5. “Share of selected problems among U.S. adults who suffered at least once per month from gastrointestinal complaints as of February 2017,”
  6. E. Kincaid, “Trendy spices and clean labels drive condiment market to $24B,”
Published in WholeFoods Magazine December 2017