Spice is nice

Retailers are racking up sales as today’s consumers are more willing to experiment with spices and seasonings. 

There was a time, not too long ago, when a consumer’s spice rack consisted of salt, pepper, cinnamon and maybe a couple of garden variety seasonings. Not anymore. Different flavor profiles from across the country—and from around the world—have opened consumers’ eyes and tickled their taste buds.

3-cans“The American palette, we are a little behind from what is happening overseas,” says Lisa Kartzman, director, public relations and strategic projects for New York-based American Roland Food Corp. “But we are a young country with young palettes. The more people travel and the smaller the world becomes—especially with the millennials who seemingly love to travel—they come back looking for these flavors.”

Retailers are benefiting from this flavor burst. According to the SymphonyIRI Group the spices/seasoning category increased by nearly 6.0% at food, drug, mass and select club and dollar store chains for the 52 weeks ended December 30. For the tracked time period the Chicago-based research company estimates the category generated more than $3 billion in sales.

Robert Albaugh, western regional sales manager for Tony Chachere, based in Opelousas, La., says this is the result of an increased willingness to experiment and try different flavor profiles. Consumers are finding inspiration from several different places, say industry observers. Much of it comes from trying to duplicate what they eat at restaurants and the recipes they read about in magazines and see on various television cooking programs.
Even non-cooking related programs are generating interest. For instance there are a plethora of reality-based programs that take place in Louisiana. Albaugh, as well as Jack Walker, vice president of marketing for Walker & Sons, based in Ville Platte, La. and maker of the Slap Ya Mama brand, both say these shows put Louisiana, its culture and its cuisines front and center for millions to see.

Taking advantage of that, as well as the ongoing trend that “hotter is better,” Tony Chachere recently introduced its BOLD Creole Seasoning. “It is a spicier, hotter, kicked up version of our original Creole seasoning,” says Albaugh. It is available in 7- and 14-ounces.
Walker & Sons is trying to make cooking fun with its Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning; hence the name Slap Ya Mama, says Walker, its catchy.

The seasoning is more than just a catchy name though. Walker says it is made of all-natural ingredients, is kosher, has no MSG and has less sodium than many other similar products. As people continue to look for lower sodium products, the company is trying to develop a low sodium blend that does not taste like it has fillers in it, he adds.

Along with “hot” and low sodium, ethnic seasonings continue to drive growth in the category as well. Observers say some of the strongest growth is coming from specialty and niche blends such as adobo, garam masala, tandoori and vindaloo curry seasonings. The growth is coming from a wide variety of consumers too.

“Our Adobo consumer base is mixed,” says Joseph Perez, senior vice president at Goya Foods, based in Secaucus, N.J. “It is composed of both Hispanic and mainstream consumers who are looking to add more flavor to their meals. General market consumers, in particular, have become more adventurous as a result of being exposed to a wide variety of cuisines and flavors over the years.”

Learn your ABC’s
With the mixed bag of spice shoppers, along with the sheer amount of spices, seasonings and blends available to them, it can often be difficult for retailers to merchandise such a complex category.

Education is important, says Tom Havran, spices/product expert for Frontier Natural Products Co-op, based in Norway, Iowa. “There are so many spices and blends to choose from, the consumer can become overwhelmed. Clearly organizing the set goes a long way to making shopping easier.” For example, according to Harvan, a good policy is for retailers to organize their spices offering in alphabetical order and grouping the subcategories such as seasoning blends and salt-free blends together.

The same reasons that can make merchandising the category difficult can also provide endless opportunities—particularly when it comes to cross merchandising. It seems obvious, say observers, but merchandising spices, seasonings and blends in the meat and seafood department really works. According to testing done by McCormick & Co., sales are twice the rate versus on-shelf and increase the meat and seafood sales as well (4.4% for poultry and 6.9% for seafood).

The meat and seafood departments are the most logical areas, but there are other departments—and seasons—that provide ample opportunities as well. Cinnamon near oatmeal and coffee and nutmeg near the eggnog during the holidays are perfect examples, says Harvan, while other observers suggest merchandising them in the produce aisle alongside potatoes and stir-fry ingredients.

An easy meal kick
Not every at-home chef is looking to experiment with the latest trendy spices. Some are simply looking for convenience and want to make an easy, yet flavorful meal. Retailers can help do so by creating flavor solutions that mirror the way consumers think about everyday dinners, says Lisa Carpenter, director category management at Sparks, Md.-based McCormick.

“Flavoring truly is part of consumers’ everyday lives and plays a defining role in creating a dish or meal,” she says. “Consumers continue to look for easy ways to add great flavor and make meals simpler.”

She says they are also looking for new meal ideas. To meet those needs McCormick is launching more than 25 products to the herb and spice category. New products include three all-natural Seafood Recipe Mixes: Tomato Basil Salmon; Lemon Pepper Dill Tilapia and Savory Garlic & Italian Herb Shrimp and two Perfect Pinch Seasoning Blends: Asian and Mexican. The two Perfect Pinch Seasoning Blends are made with all-natural ingredients, have no MSG and come with a peel-back label that provides three to four usage ideas.

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