Spices: new report examines impact, opportunities

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Food makers can use spices and seasonings to differentiate their
products, attract new consumers and add a health halo to their
brands, according to a new report, which examines the spices
expected to make an impact in the years to come.

Published by market research firm Packaged Facts in collaboration with the Center for Culinary Development (CCD), the report examines the changing marketplace and consumer taste expectations resulting from the spread of ethnic cuisines in the United States. "Spices have become a key tool in marketers' flavor arsenal,"​ states Spices and Seasonings: Culinary Trend Mapping Report."Mediterranean, Pan-Asian, Pan-Latin spices and seasonings can extend brands and build bridges to ethnic consumers, while myriad spice blends, like Chinese Five Spice, take consumers to new flavor levels."​ The increased interest in bigger, bolder flavors has resulted in a gradual but steady growth in annual spice sales. According to data from Information Resources Inc (IRI), these grew by 10 percent since 2001, to reach a total value of $1.2bn (excluding salt and pepper). Primary drivers for the increased spice consumption involve new tastes and habits, and new consumers. "Americans have become more adventurous in their tastes, encouraged by the Food Network and international travel, as well as a plethora of ethnic dining options at home,"​ writes the report. "America's population is also more diverse, with more Hispanics and Asians seeking bolder flavors and cooking for themselves with a wider variety of spices; simultaneously, ethnic groups are intermingled more and more, sharing tastes and flavors."​The report divides spice trends into five 'stages'. The first stage examines Middle Eastern flavors, including sumac, a sour, citrus-like spice, and za'atar, a spice and sesame blend; Japanese 'Seven Spice' blends are also examined, as well as three exotic peppers: Sichuan Peppercorns, Peri-Peri and Grains of Paradise. Stage 2 looks at the influence of North African cuisine, and includes Ras El Hanout spice blends and Harissa, a chile-caraway seed condiment. Regional Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines are examined in Stage 3, including products such as Star Anise and Chinese Five Spice. Saffron moves into Stage 4 with its multi-ethnic applications, while Ancho Chile is examined in mainstream Stage 5, an indication of consumers' "broadening sophistication"​ around chile peppers. According to Packaged Facts and CCD, spices can be used to define and differentiate products - such as Doritos' Nacho Cheese Flavor: "it was only after consumers learned to crave Nacho flavor that other flavors joined the Doritos family,"​ writes the report. Spices can also be used to extend a brand to new flavor directions, as seen in the Kettle Chips line, or to "elevate the experience"​ of familiar foods, such as Sahale Nuts Snacks. They also build bridges to new ethnic groups by introducing well-known international spices to mainstream American products. "The key here is to use recognizable spices, rubs and marinades that haven't made it into the mainstream quite yet and to use them in understandable ways, i.e. in similar ways to a native cuisine." ​Spices can also be used to "add a health halos",​ by promoting the scientifically examined medicinal benefits of some spices, such as tumeric, ginger and grains of paradise. In addition, manufacturers can use spices and blends to reduce sodium in their products, as these can make up for lost saltiness. The current market leader for spices in the US is McCormick, which holds almost 40 percent of the market. Tone Brothers currently holds 4.6 percent of the spice and seasonings market, and Morton Salt has a 4.2 percent market share, overtaking Unilever for third place, after the consumer goods giant saw sales decline in 2005.

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