Sector Insight: Seasonings - Added spice

Seasoning manufacturers are innovating to appeal to consumers with less time for cooking, writes Jane Bainbridge.

THE BACKGROUND

The British love affair with ethnic foods and consumers' willingness to experiment with new flavours is helping to maintain strong growth in the herb, spices and seasonings market.

Over the past five years the sector has seen value growth of 30% and is estimated to reach £170m in 2005, according to Mintel, with sales driven by a focus on fresh, convenient and premium products. Although consumers are embracing new spice blends and ready-mixed products, however, sales of traditional salt are struggling in the face of health concerns about levels of sodium in the diet.

Thanks to the popularity of TV chefs and eating out, people are using a wider repertoire of ingredients to prepare more adventurous recipes.

The 'meat and two veg' diet of old has made way for dishes that use more herbs and spices.

A recent Sainsbury's TV ad in which Jamie Oliver encouraged consumers to experiment with nutmeg boosted sales of the spice four-fold.

Dried and frozen herbs, spices and seasonings account for 41% of the category's value. Fresh herbs are performing well and are estimated to be worth £38m this year, making up about 20% of value sales. This category also benefited from ad campaigns by Sainsbury's in 2001-2002 to stimulate interest in fresh herbs. Retailers rule the category, which includes pre-cut herbs and potted plants, with own brands.

Herbs and spices have relatively high market penetration, with ABs the most likely purchasers. Fresh herbs are preferred by adults who live on their own, while most families opt for general seasoning blends.

The core seasonings - salt and pepper - are experiencing mixed fortunes.

These are the most popular ingredients in this sector, with older consumers buying the most. British palates are growing accustomed to the use of fresh pepper in dishes. Sales of pepper grow by about 5% a year. Premium products such as crushed or whole peppercorns now make up almost half of all pepper sales.

However, the trend for reducing salt intake has had an adverse affect on sales of the seasoning, with the market declining by 13% between 2000 and 2005. Sea/rock salt and low-sodium alternatives are performing best and achieving increased volume sales.

Adventurous palates

Manufacturers have introduced blends of seasonings and mixes as introductions to different foods for more novice chefs. These pre-blended and pre-measured seasonings have been one of the biggest growth areas of this sector.

For curry powder, however, the increased popularity of ethnic cooking sauces is taking its toll. Single spices are seen as more authentic, and pre-blended seasonings for dishes such as Rogan Josh often have superior taste and come in more convenient formats.

New product development in this market has mostly focused on premium offerings or those aimed at the convenience sector. So while Schwartz introduced its premium product Special Selection, it has also added meal kits.

Owned by McCormick Foods, Schwartz is the leading manufacturer, with about 45% market share, but it is facing increased competition from own-label as the supermarkets source their own quality ingredients for their premium ranges. Schwartz's range comprises more than 200 products, including dried, wet and chilled herbs as well as pastes, cooking sauces and seasonings.

Last year the company introduced Special Selection - vacuum-packed bottles of premium herbs and spices with an emphasis on their country of origin.

This year it added Shotz to its range - six sprinkle-and-grill blends of seasonings designed for less-experienced cooks.

Bart Spices supplies own-label products as well as its branded range.

Along with its selection of herbs and spices in various formats it offers a range of ready-chopped items such as garlic, chillies and ginger. Bristol-based Bart focuses on the provenance and quality of its ingredients, which include organic products. Last year it started selling direct to consumers through its website.

Specialist offerings

Centura Foods counts Sharwood's and Saxa among its brands. Sharwood's Indian range includes three different strength curry powders as well as blended pastes for dishes such as Korma and Rogan Josh. Saxa is the leading salt brand, with table, cooking, rock, sea and low-sodium variants.

It introduced Saxa So-Low low-sodium salt in 2001 with half the sodium levels of normal salt. It also redesigned its packaging across the range in 2001. This year, it launched premium Mediterranean Sea Salt Flakes under the Cerebos brand.

The Gourmet Garden brand, owned by SHS Group, was launched in 2000 as a range of chilled herbs and spices. The tubes of herbs and spice blends are positioned alongside fresh variants in the supermarkets and marketed as a way of having fresh herbs to hand without them going off in the same way. The products can be frozen or kept in the fridge and consist of herbs blended with salts and sugars.

At the upmarket end of the sector, Fiddes Payne now has multiple listings for its range of herbs and spices. Its packaging uses distinctive designs such as cigar tubes for vanilla and pepper and brushed metal tins with windows in the side so the product is visible.

Product innovation

The future of this market will be boosted by increased interest in cookery and new flavours among the more affluent socio-economic groups. But the growing numbers of time-pressed consumers and smaller households works against cooking from scratch. The manufacturers are addressing this societal shift with the introduction of pre-blended dry products and paste or sauce mixes.

With Indian, Chinese and Thai foods becoming more familiar to consumers, manufacturers are looking for new flavours or more specific regional variations, such as Gujarati or Goan flavours within the Indian repertoire.

Taking these issues into consideration, Mintel predicts the market will grow by 23% from 2005 to 2010 to reach £209.7m, an increase of about 13% in real terms. Within this, fresh herb sales will grow the most, followed by pepper, with salt predicted to perform worst.

HERBS AND SPICES BRANDS BY ADSPEND (£000) 2004 2003 2002 2001 1 Schwartz 957 13 2 112 2 Gourmet Garden 81 220 293 86 3 LoSalt 49 15 73 43 4 Sainsbury's 12 186 2 3355 5 Solo Sea Salt (Low-sodium sea salt) 6 1 1 8 6 Bart Spices n/a 6 35 n/a Others 11 4 2 22 Total 1116 445 408 3630 Source: Nielsen Media Research/Mintel HERBS, SPICES AND SEASONINGS SALES BY BRAND (£000) 2005 2001 01-05 pounds m % pounds m % % chg 1 Schwartz 31 45 31 50 0 2 Bart 5 7 5 8 0 3 Lion 1 1 2 3 -50 4 Other brands 5 7 6 10 -17 Own-label 28 40 18 29 56 Total 69 100 62 100 11 Source: Mintel *excluding fresh herbs UK RETAIL SALES OF SEASONINGS BY TYPE 2004 2002 2000 00-04 pounds m pounds m pounds m % chng 1 Herbs, spices and seasonings* 68 64 59 15 2 Fresh herbs 34 30 17 100 3 Pepper 30 28 20 50 4 Salt 22 23 23 -4 5 Curry powder and paste 12 12 12 n/a Total 166 157 131 27 Source: Mintel *excluding fresh herbs

ANALYST COMMENT - SALLY DUDLESTON, CONSUMER INSIGHT DIRECTOR, DRY CULINARY COMPLEMENTS, TNS

The dry culinary complements market, which includes herbs, spices, peppers and seasonings, is worth about £92m. This category has a high penetration, with 73% of households buying into the category on average four times a year. Category opportunities therefore lie in driving frequency of purchase through a rise in consumer awareness, use and increased repertoire of products purchased across the category.

Retailers are taking steps to attract consumers with in-store initiatives such as fixture appeal and clarity. This is evident in Sainsbury's' 'Try something new today' positioning, backed by in-store support and TV ad campaign featuring celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

Tesco is the market leader, with a 29% market share. Sainsbury's and Waitrose do particularly strong business in this category due to the cooking-focused profile of their consumer base.

Key sectors within the market are in growth. Seasonings have seen double-digit growth by attracting new consumers into the category who are looking for convenience and meal ideas.

Schwartz has helped revitalise the category by relaunching its brand in April 2004 and sponsoring the Channel 4 show Richard and Judy. Continual innovation by Schwartz in areas such as Grinders, and single-use Shotz has developed everyday use and encouraged younger people to enter the category, while adding value to the market.

Consumer education is critical to the success of this category. Its growth will depend on attracting younger consumers to what is currently a market with an older, more upmarket and more traditional customer base.