Across the board, consumers want more flavor, especially with their protein dishes. Many protein categories are saturated with product offerings, so much so that consumers are looking for new flavors and more flavors to appease their palates. Sauces and marinades provide a way to accomplish this task.
Consumers want bold flavors and a lot of them, says Matthew Hudak, U.S. research analyst for Euromonitor International, Chicago.
“Anything with a lot of kick or intense flavoring has been resonating with consumers,” he says. In addition, younger consumers want flavors that are very strong and very noticeable. “Sriracha is something that is doing very well right now, and it’s clearly a lot spicier than people would have once accepted.”
Convenience is an important driver in the use of sauces and marinades in new product development, says Yasemin Ozdemir, a market analyst for Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands.
“Consumers with busy lifestyles desire great-tasting meat dishes, but with less time on their hands, and also less knowledge about what tastes good with which type of meat,” Ozdemir says. “As a result, they are turning to options that make life easier for them and producers are responding.”
One example of a convenience option is the “all-in-one meal” with compartments that contain all parts of the meal. This can include items such as salad, rice or potatoes, with a compartment that has the seasoned or marinated meat. All-in-one meals are easy to prepare, as most of the products give preparation tips on the packaging.
“Ready meals with [pre-flavored] meat are a great solution for people looking for tasty convenience,” Ozdemir says. Hudak agrees that complete-meal products are popular now due to their convenience.
“Things like the new Campbell’s skillet sauces are trying to make the whole process of using sauces and marinades much easier,” he says. 
Another observation along the lines of convenience is pre-marinated meat and poultry. In 2012, 4.8 percent of all meat and poultry products launched in North America were pre-marinated, Innova reports. In addition, North America saw a 35 percent rise in pre-marinated meat and poultry launches compared to 2011. 
“You can find them in your regular supermarket, but also at the local butcher,” Ozdemir says. “For those consumers that have little knowledge about cooking and flavors, these pre-marinated meats are a perfect solution.”

Popular flavors

Ethnic flavors are another big trend in meat marinades and sauces. Globally nearly 10 percent of all meat marinades and sauces were tracked with an ethnic flavor in 2012, a rise of 19 percent compared to 2011, Innova reports. This trend for ethnic flavors is very alive in North America as 7.6 percent of sauces and seasonings had an ethnic flavor, according to Innova. Top ethnic flavors in sauces and seasoning launches tracked globally are Thai, Italian, Indian, Asian, Chinese, Japanese and Mexican, the research firm says.
Tradition is still a key positioning in sauces and marinades though as 14.8 percent of meat marinades and sauces were positioned as traditional in 2012, Innova reports. Authentic Italian sauces and Indian spices fared well too. 
However, product launch activity shows that more and more products with interesting new flavor combinations are reaching global markets. For example, Innova has tracked a proliferation of barbecue flavors. The number of barbecue-flavored sauces tracked increased by 27 percent globally from 2011 to 2012. A few examples of flavor combinations launched in 2012 are full smoky flavored barbecue sauce, hot and spicy flavored barbecue sauce, and honey barbecue sauce.
“Once a very traditional sauce, now [it is] a contemporized product to spice up your meat,” Ozdemir says. 
Sauces and marinades are not the only way to season or flavor your meat or poultry. 
“Rubs are the next big thing in spicing up your meat,” Ozdemir says. “They come available in all flavors you could wish for, and allow for many ways of preparation: grilling, roasting and stir-frying.”
Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. agrees that the trend for pre-marinated products is moving toward offering consumers next step preparation levels with great-tasting flavor alternatives. 
“This includes seasoned and marinated products along with topically rubbed steaks, chops and roasts that provide consumers with more options for dinner,” says Kent Harrison, Tyson Fresh Meats’ vice president of marketing and premium programs. “Helping consumers with the next step in meal preparation while still keeping them actively involved in cooking dinner is what we call ‘active convenience.’”
For example, Tyson recently introduced Pork Shoulder for Carnitas, a pre-seasoned pork product packaged in a ready-to-go, cook-in-bag with easy instructions.
“Consumers simply place the cook-in-bag in a slow cooker or regular oven,” Harrison says. “…We’ve seen increased interest from consumers for authentically ethnic flavor profiles and products that are easy to prepare.” 

Restaurant trends 

Many restaurant trends are pushing forward the use of sauces and marinades in retail products.
“Many companies are focusing on capturing restaurant-quality taste at home,” Hudak says. “So anything that is trendy in the restaurant scene is likely to see a sauce or marinade that tries to copy.”
In restaurants, consumers are indicating they want new types of flavors and more flavors added to their proteins. Technomic Inc., Chicago, recently asked consumers how much consumers wanted different types of proteins to have added flavor from a variety of different products, including marinades, glazes, sauces and condiments. Across the board, consumers said they wanted more added flavor. Particularly, for marinades and sauces, interest increased 4 percent from 2010 to 2012, Technomic reports.
In 2010, half of consumers wanted to add flavor to their beef through marinades, and those thoughts grew to 54 percent by 2012, according to Technomic’s “Center of the Plate: Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report 2013 – US.” Consumers’ desires for more sauces and condiments for beef grew from 44 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2012. For pork, demand for marinades grew from 42 percent to 46 percent, and sauces and condiments from 45 percent to 49 percent, during the time period. 
Consumers’ desire for their chicken to have more marinades grew from 52 percent to 60 percent, and sauces and condiments wishes from 54 percent to 59 percent from 2011 to 2013 as reported in Technomic’s “Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report 2013 – US.” Turkey, on the other hand, was the only protein that didn’t see big increases in the desire for more flavors. For turkey, demand for marinades went from 37 percent to 38 percent, and 43 percent to 44 percent for sauces and condiments, during the time period.
“Turkey is not as familiar with consumers, so they are a little less likely to try new flavors,” explains Kelly Weikel, a senior consumer research manager at Technomic. “Consumers do tend toward some of the more established flavors when they aren’t familiar, whereas with something like chicken, it’s used so widely, it’s so versatile, that consumers are more open to using some more types of flavor with it.”
Technomic’s reports also asked what types of marinades, glazes, sauces and condiments consumers preferred, and honey, barbecue and teriyaki topped the lists of the different proteins. For beef and chicken, consumers’ desires for bourbon flavor in both glazes and marinades grew 5 percent during the time periods. Demand for brown sugar also increased for a beef glaze or marinade. For pork, consumers would like to see more apple sauce flavor. Chicken saw an increase in some of the ethnic flavors. Teriyaki, chipotle and hot sauce were all up in demand.
Americans’ palates also have evolved their preferences for sauces and marinades when dining out. 
“They don’t necessarily have to be standard or traditional, especially for some of those meats that consumers are really familiar with,” Weikel says. “What people are really looking for — for some of those proteins that are so established and so saturated — is a new spin on it. They are looking for flavor innovation, and a lot of the innovation comes from the ethnic-food trends.”
For example, Korean barbecue and galbi, marinated beef or pork in ganjang-based sauce, has started to become more mainstream, so many restaurants are embracing other Asian barbecues to incorporate more emerging Asian flavors.
In general, bolder and spicier flavors from cuisines such as Cajun, Caribbean, Indonesian, Moroccan, Peruvian, Lebanese, Portuguese, and other Asian and African countries are growing flavor trends in restaurants, Weikel says. These flavors have the potential to cross over into more sauces and marinades in retail products.     

At-home trends

Dishes that have become very popular dining out also are reaching the mainstream crowd through supermarkets, allowing the consumer to create restaurant quality dishes in their own kitchen. In 2012, 1.8 percent of all sauces and seasonings tracked in North America had a “restaurant style” claim, up from 1.3 percent in 2011, Innova reports. 
Flavors also move from restaurants to the kitchen. 
“Consumers like to recreate their favorite dining out dishes at home; it is a good place to be inspired,” Ozdemir says. “We can see sauces, spices and flavored ready meals moving from the foodservice channel to the retailer. Indian, Thai and Mexican sauces and spices are very normal and well-known kitchen items nowadays.” 
Wasabi is one successful product that has translated from sushi restaurants to kitchens, she says. For example, Knorr recently launched a garlic sauce with wasabi flavor. Soy sauce also has become a mainstream table sauce in Western countries because of its presence in Asian and Japanese restaurants. Of all cooking sauces tracked in 2012 by Innova, 6.3 percent is soy sauce.
Going forward, Hudak expects to continue to see a lot of really strong flavors and a focus on making the process of preparing meals much easier. Sauces also will have to work hard to keep people eating at home more, because any level of economic recovery typically frees consumers up to go back to foodservice outlets.
“We’ll probably see more youth oriented creations — something that caters to Millennials who grew up on a variety of different food types,” Hudak says. “This group is going to slowly come into financial maturity, and companies will go after them.”

Health matters

Healthier formulations are one trend to watch for in bottled sauces and marinades that could transition into the sauces and marinades used for prepared foods. Health positioning, such as lower-sodium and -fat options, has made its way into the sauces and marinades category. However, healthy positioning is not always reflected in the claims on front of the packaging.
“Health trends are hard to market with sauces and marinades, as the whole purpose of sauces is to make things taste better, which people do not normally associate with health claims,” says Matthew Hudak, U.S. research analyst for Euromonitor International, Chicago. “One thing that is catching on everywhere is gluten-free, and most companies that have inherently gluten-free products have been adding this to their labels.” 
Some companies are choosing a stealth-health approach in reducing sugar, fat and salt in their products, because consumers can wonder why there was so much in it in the first place, says Yasemin Ozdemir, market analyst for Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands.
Innova reports that top health-positioning statements globally in marinades and sauces are no additives/preservatives (25.5 percent of product launches tracked in 2012 had this claim), gluten-free (11.9 percent of product launches tracked in 2012 had this claim) and natural (10.9 percent of product launches tracked in 2012 had this claim). 
Others with smaller percentages, but worth noting:
  • 3.9 percent of all marinades and sauces have a low-fat positioning
  • 2.9 percent — no trans fats 
  • 2.0 percent — low sodium 
  • 1.9 percent — low cholesterol