CPG Playbook   //   March 18, 2024

‘Aioli is everywhere right now’: Why condiments are having a moment

Shoppers increasingly want their refrigerator shelves to be stocked with far more than just ketchup and mayonnaise. In turn, a host of food startups see a big revenue opportunity if they can create the top new hot (or sweet or sour) condiment.  

This spring, Chosen Foods — known for its avocado oil-based sprays and dressings — is expanding its condiments collection. The company recently debuted a better-for-you dip and drizzle sauces line featuring chicken, burger and everything bagel-flavored sauces. Momofuku Goods is also delving further into condiments by launching Sweet & Savory Korean BBQ Sauce and Sweet & Spicy Korean BBQ Sauce later this spring. It is the company’s first new product since 2021.

America’s love for condiments and sauces seems to only be growing, as The Wall Street Journal reported in early March, with multiple varieties dominating many households’ fridge shelves. According to Grand View Research, the global sauces, dressings and condiments market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.8% from 2019 to 2025, reaching $181.01 billion by next year. Outside of consumers’ changing tastes, a recent surge in acquisitions in the condiments space is helping fuel continued interest from food brands in developing more sauces, aiolis and spreads.

Some companies are trying to make a name for themselves with better-for-you versions of classics. Sir Kensington’s discontinued its ketchup last year, opening up a lane for other players. Even pasta sauce maker Rao’s released a ketchup line last year.

Established brands are also revamping their lines to include new formats. This month Frank’s RedHot announced two new product lines, the Dip’n Sauce and Squeeze Sauce. These new SKUs are “crafted with many of the same iconic ingredients” as the original hot sauce, according to the company — but offer a thicker, drizzly consistency that makes them ideal for dipping or smearing on sandwiches. 

“The way consumers experience various levels of heat is subjective, so we wanted to expand into different heat levels, flavors and formats that were suited for incremental occasions,” Valda Coryat, North America vp of marketing at McCormick said in an email. “Consumers told us they preferred an inverted bottle for dipping and once we started trying these creamy and delicious flavors it just made sense from a product experience perspective.”

Carol Ortenberg, a food and beverage brand strategist and advisor, said it’s no surprise the condiment section continues to see a lot of innovation. In the past few years, this category has seen a substantial amount of investments and acquisitions.

“When you see a lot of deals flowing in a part of the store it attracts attention,” she said. One of the most prominent acquisitions was Unilever’s purchase of Sir Kensington in 2017 for $140 million. Other high-profile deals include McCormick’s $800 million purchase of Cholula in 2020 and Kraft Heinz’s acquisition of keto-friendly dressings and sauces brand Primal Kitchen for $200 million in 2019. In 2021, Chosen Foods sold a majority stake of the company to private equity firm Butterfly. 

“All of that caused a little bit of a resurgence in the condiment aisle,” Ortenberg said. That trend has continued, she noted, with truffle sauce startup Truff landing a major investment from Kim Kardashian’s Skky Partners in late 2023. Moreover, the cultural zeitgeist and social media are also driving condiment trends — from TikTok’s pink sauce to craft hot sauce, as made popular by Complex’s “Hot Ones.”

“The other thing that’s driving the category is, you’re seeing so many indie brands gain attention for their products even if they’re not sold in every part of the country,” Ortenberg said, alluding to players like Truff that also sell through their websites.

With this increased interest, she said, the condiment section has gotten increasingly filled with challenger brands — and it’s no longer dominated by legacy players like Hellmann’s, Hunt’s and Heinz. Furthermore, global flavors are also influencing the category, with brands like Fly by Jing and Bachan’s helping bring chili crisp and Japanese BBQ sauce into the mainstream, respectively.  

Post-pandemic trends have also helped fuel the condiment craze. “People more than ever are eating more meals and snacks at home,” Haven’s Kitchen founder Ali Cayne told Modern Retail. “What they really need is easy flavor, and they’re getting that with all these amazing condiments,” she said. “That’s why you’re seeing the chili crunch boom, with people finding new flavors.” 

Haven’s Kitchen was founded in 2018 and specializes in fresh cooking sauces like Golden Tahini and Herby Chimichurri. The company is now launching a line of shelf-stable aiolis, due to hit stores next month.

Cayne said that until now, all of Haven’s Kitchen products were merchandised in the refrigerated section of the store, which limits discovery among shoppers. She added that selling chilled sauces means each retailer places the brand in a different part of the store. In contrast, shelf-stable condiments are typically placed in one aisle. Similarly, last fall plant-based dressings startup Mother Nature also launched its first shelf-stable condiments, which includes organic ketchups and mayos.

“Instead of trying to create a whole new category the way we did with the fresh line, we’re taking something that exists in pieces and making it better for you and more global,” she said of the squeezable aioli pouches. “Plus, aioli is everywhere right now,” Cayne said, so that also helped cement the direction of the new line. 

The new aioli line includes Zesty Jalapeño and Sunshine Chili aioli, a cholesterol-free take on mayonnaise. “We wanted to make something that just goes on top of everything, and not trying to figure out how to cook with it like our sauces,” she said, adding that feedback on the original Haven’s Kitchen line showed the company some customers were still unsure of how to use the brand’s Golden Turmeric Tahini or Herby Chimichurri.

“We also started conversations with retailers before we even had a product to taste,” she said. “What the buyers said to us was there isn’t a single brand that has several SKUs of different global flavors that can go into the natural condiment space,” she said. 

The aioli line will first hit specialty shops in the New York area, then launch in 615 Target stores in April, at Whole Foods Northeast in May and then at Whole Foods Florida in June. Another benefit of the new aiolis’ formulation is that, unlike the original line, they don’t need cold pack shipping, so the company can sell it on Amazon via Buy with Prime.

As American condiments undergo a transformation, Ortenberg said ketchup innovation in particular is focused on reducing sugar. It’s something Sir Kensington’s helped popularize with its better-for-you take on ketchup, which was free of high fructose corn syrup and had lower salt. However, Sir Kensington discontinued its ketchup in 2023, with the founders citing low margins and mayo now accounting for 75% of sales as the reason. It’s proof that not every new condiment can be a hit.

But there are also some challenges in selling condiments. “The turns with condiments are slower than other categories,” Ortenberg said. Sales largely depend on how often a household goes through the product. That can make new brand discovery and trial more difficult, especially with premium pricing.

Nevertheless, Cayne expects having a condiment line to open a new avenue of growth for Haven’s Kitchen. She described the move as not a pivot, but an additional product line geared at growing Haven’s presence in different parts of the store and reaching new customers.

“Just from the distribution and awareness we’ll be building in the next couple of months, there’ll be more people who know Haven’s Kitchen as an aioli brand than those who know it for fresh sauces,” Cayne said.