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    Consider the Sauce

    Manufacturers and retailers market easy prep, value, variety and even health to time-starved shoppers.

    By Bridget Goldschmidt, Stagnito Business Information
    Barilla has developed a range of easy dinner options, including meal kits for Chicago-area shoppers, in partnership with e-grocer Peapod, and the 30 Meals in 30 Minutes program at retail.

    In time for this holiday season, Barilla has joined forces with e-grocer Peapod to offer busy Chicago-area families Peapod Meal Kits featuring Barilla Recipes. Exclusive to the area, the kits are delivered to customers? front doors with all of the ingredients pre-measured and pre-packaged, enabling shoppers to create, in 30 minutes or less, a pasta meal ? either Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Spaghetti or Baked Rotini ? feeding at least four, at less than $5 per serving.

    ?We strive to bring great fresh food and convenience into our customers? lives, and easy meal solutions are a huge part of that,? noted Tony Stallone, VP of fresh markets at Skokie, Ill.-based Peapod, an Ahold USA company, at the time of the kits? early-November launch. Stallone described the offering as ?not only ? a simple way to provide a fresh, great-tasting meal that appeals to the entire family, [but also] a terrific value.? He added that another big reason for teaming with Barilla was ?because pasta is one of American families? favorite foods.?

    Although the development of the kits drives home Barilla?s commitment to helping shoppers eat well without having to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, the manufacturer of sauces and pasta has come up with other creative ways to help out at dinnertime.

    ?Because one-third of shoppers are looking for a solution for tonight?s meal, we have developed in-store tools that offer both pasta and sauce,? says Debbie Zefting, director of customer and shopper development at Bannockburn, Ill.-based Barilla America. ?We also know that, especially [at] traditional grocery stores, customers are looking for excitement and fun, so, in addition to our eye-catching merchandising, we have utilized educational in-store signage and display pallets, all focused on delicious and fast meal solutions.?

    One example given by Zefting is the company?s 30 Meals in 30 Minutes program, which ?provided shoppers with a variety of fun recipes, developed by Barilla?s culinary team, which utilized Barilla pasta and sauces.?

    But Barilla?s not the only company to climb aboard the meal solutions gravy train, so to speak. ?Sauces play an important role in providing variety to weekly menu planning,? affirms Hannah Dupes, associate director of marketing for condiments and sauces at Pittsburgh-based Heinz.

    Available in Traditional, Meat, and Parmesan & Romano flavors, the company?s recently introduced Classico Family Favorites line ?is proving to be an instant hit, bringing new users and incremental consumption to an otherwise stagnant category,? notes Dupes, who points out that the products ?have taste profiles crafted with families in mind. The rich and smooth texture works well on a variety of dishes, ranging from pasta to casseroles and other baked Italian favorites. However, the secret ingredient that makes Classico Family Favorites sauces even better is the half-cup of vegetables per serving.?

    As well as being featured in retailer circulars, digital campaigns and displays throughout the country to drive awareness and trial, the new product was touted by mommy bloggers throughout the summer, driving national sales by providing recipe ideas and personal reviews, recounts Dupes.

    Not Just for Pasta

    ?Sauces will continue to evolve past pasta and onto alternate host foods like chicken and fish,? Dupes believes, and that movement is already apparent at stores operated by Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets, where ?there are a variety of skillet sauces that provide meal solutions for our customers,? observes Media and Community Relations Manager Brenda Reid. ?It?s a growing category that many of our suppliers are introducing to their product mix. Publix has made many of these items available to our customers on the aisle with instant soups and broths, because many of the same suppliers offer shelf-stable sauces.?

    Adds Reid: ?Our customers look for convenient, quick and easy recipes to try, and many of these products offer solutions to them.?

    According to Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen, while the overall condiment, gravy and sauce category was up only 1 percent in dollar sales at U.S. food stores with sales of more than $2 million, for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 25, 2014, and spaghetti/marinara sauces were down 1.7 percent, cooking sauces, like those featured at Publix, saw an impressive 9.6 percent uptick and Asian sauces logged a 3.1 percent increase.

    That last statistic is good news for Lee Kum Kee, a Hong Kong-based provider of Asian sauces and condiments, whose products are sold worldwide. The company targets those in search of not only no-fuss meals, but also true culinary adventures. ?Consumers are looking for more than just a simple solution, they want a more sophisticated culinary food experience, one defined by distinctive flavors, foodie narratives [and] freshness,? emphasizes David Crocker, general manager of U.S. mainstream retail and Central & South America at Lee Kum Kee. ?New, exciting specialty foods can help [shoppers] create their own unique experience.?

    A major way to reach consumers, notes Crocker, is through higher-profile placement in grocery stores. ?Lee Kum Kee has traditionally been in the Asian or ethnic aisle of the supermarket, but we are testing placing the products in locations that may be more frequently visited,? he says. ?For example, our Panda Brand Ready Sauces are in some ?meal solution? sets, some stores will carry [our] Sriracha Mayo and Ketchup in the Asian/ethnic section, and others will carry them alongside the traditional mayo and ketchup products. We are also looking to make it easier for consumers by placing the sauces and condiments near meat and vegetables. In working with our retail partners, we just want to make it easy for the shoppers to come up with a convenient way to create a unique eating experience.?

    Dressings and More

    Healthy, wholesome ingredients are also important to consumers, as Victoria Hoke, COO at Irvine, Calif.-based namesake company Victoria?s Garden Grown, is quick to point out. ?Any time consumers can find a product that enhances their meal without enhancing their waistline or filling them with regret, it?s a winner,? she notes. ?Also, they want to feel they can trust the manufacturer behind the product; they want to know the company feeding them cares about them and their family.?

    In concocting the company?s line of ?clean-label? jarred products featuring organic vegetables, which launched this past spring, ?I use kale, red beets, red bell peppers and carrots to create healthy, flavorful dressings that are low in calories ? 15 to 20 per serving ? fat-free, low-sodium, gluten-free and vegan,? continues Hoke. ?The line is also completely non-GMO and manufactured here in the U.S. Victoria?s Garden Grown works in so many applications ? as a dressing for things like salads and vegetables, as well as a marinade for meat dishes ? and a stir-in for starches like quinoa, rice and lentils.?

    Hoke particularly enjoys getting up close and personal when hawking the six-SKU line. ?I love doing in-store demos to promote product as well as consumer events like marathon expos ? consumers get to try the product, plus I hand out recipe cards to give them ideas on how to use it,? she enthuses. ?Next year, I?ll be doing those, along with family expos, and vegan and gluten-free conferences, among others. I also am starting an online media campaign to help drive customers to stores.? Additionally, Hoke has had coupons created to distribute during demos and events, as well as to offer to interested retailers to use in POS displays.

    So far, the results of these efforts have been encouraging, to say the least. ?There has never been a dressing like this before, but based on initial feedback from consumers, this is something they want and have been looking for,? asserts Hoke. ?Victoria?s Garden Grown has been doing well in the initial stores [where it?s offered], and when I go to consumer events, I sell out of product.?

    ?Sauces will continue to evolve past pasta and onto alternate host foods.?
    ?Hannah Dupes, Heinz

    ?Our customers look for convenient quick and easy recipes to try and many of these products offer solutions to them.?
    ?Brenda Reid, Publix

    By Bridget Goldschmidt, Stagnito Business Information
    • About Bridget Goldschmidt In addition to serving as Progressive Grocer’s Managing Editor, Bridget writes many print and digital features encompassing a range of grocery and fresh categories across the store. Bridget also enjoys on-site reporting assignments at such key industry events as the New York Fancy Food Show and the International Boston Seafood Show, in addition to visiting stores for PG’s prestigious Store of the Month feature. In her years with the magazine, she has developed into a knowledgeable voice on grocery industry trends, sought by such distinguished publications as The New York Times.

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