Condiments Are Hot Again, Thanks to Millennials

Mix ‘em, mash ‘em and spice ‘em up—manufacturers are giving old standbys a kick.

May 02, 2019

CHICAGO, Ill. – For years, Heinz has been the king of ketchup, with Hunt’s a distant runner-up. But as flavor-seeking millennials drive growth in condiments, Hunt’s is putting up a fight, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Conagra Brands of Chicago, the maker of Hunt’s, is launching a revamped all-natural ketchup, premium barbecue sauces and new lines of hot sauces, flexing its muscle in a category it largely ignored for years.

Meanwhile Kraft Heinz, with headquarters in Chicago and Pittsburgh, is producing a line of mashups, including Mayochup (mayonnaise and ketchup), Mayomust (mayo and mustard), Mayocue (mayo and barbecue) and Kranch (ketchup and ranch), to capture the attention of shoppers craving new food experiences.

The battle for the normally sleepy condiment aisle comes as millennial shoppers display a penchant for sauce. As fresh food commands a greater share of grocery budgets, consumers are covering their foods with bottled flavors to liven up their meals and provide variety, said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst, the NPD Group.

Chili sauce is particularly hot, with sales surging 23% between 2013 and 2018 and projected to climb another 16% by 2023, according to Euromonitor. Manufacturers are giving old standbys a kick, and curry ketchup and wasabi mayonnaise are joining the regular staples in many household refrigerators, said Megumi Matsunaga, senior analyst at Euromonitor.

Millennials, who developed their taste buds eating at ethnic restaurants, are driving the saucing trend and turning to condiments for an affordable way to replicate those flavors at home.

But standing out in the condiment aisle is a challenge. There are dozens of options that all look mostly the same and heavy competition from private-label manufacturers, including Amazon, which recently launched a mustard under its Happy Belly brand.

The introduction of healthier options has been driving much of the sales growth. The Heinz brand posted record 8% growth last year, thanks to its ketchup lines that are organic, free of high fructose corn syrup, sugar-free or sweetened with honey, said Steve Cornell, president of sauces, meals and frozen food, Kraft Heinz. Those better-for-you products now represent 15% of ketchup sales and are growing.

In response, Hunt’s launched the “Best Ever” ketchup, which has no high-fructose corn syrup, is non-GMO and is “thicker and richer” due to more tomatoes, the company said. It moved from an upright glass bottle to a squeezable plastic container, catching up to its competitors.

Market leader Heinz’s ketchup sales topped $551 million over the past year, while the No. 2 brand Hunt’s had sales of $85.5 million, according to IRI, the market research firm. Private-label products accounted for $152 million in ketchup sales. But by making Hunt’s a premium product, Conagra hopes to grow market share. In addition to ketchup, Conagra is relaunching corn-syrup-free Hunt’s barbecue sauces, featuring flavors like “cherry wood chipotle” and “hickory cracked pepper.”

Don Fitzgerald, a food industry consultant and former Mariano’s executive, believes anything that jazzes up the condiment aisle is welcome. But as people move away from meat toward plant-based alternatives, they may move away from the foods that have traditionally called for condiments, such as hamburgers and hot dogs, he said.