Dollars are up across the board, but both the refrigerated dip and salsa segments saw unit sales climb as well, thanks to America’s love of snacking.
by HEATHER LARSON
While many categories have struggled to grow unit sales in the face of rising inflation, refrigerated dips are holding their own, thanks to consumers’ ongoing penchant for snacking. Dollar sales in the three largest subcategories — dips, flavored spreads (mostly hummus) and sauce/gravy/marinade mixes (including salsa) — rose 11.2%, 3.1% and 4.0%, respectively, during the 12 weeks ended Feb. 20 compared with the same period a year ago. But in the dips and sauce/gravy/marinade mixes segments, units were up as well, climbing 3.3% and 2.4%, respectively, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). Unit sales of flavored spreads, meanwhile, were down only 2.0%, while the much smaller meat spreads/salads subcategory registered a 16.7% gain.
“The imbalance (between dollar and unit sales) implies that price inflation is impacting the category, especially for guacamole, given the recent restrictions on avocado imports,” confirms Jay Whitney, CMO at Phoenix-based Food Story Brands, maker of the Fresh Cravings lineup. Clearly, however, that’s not stopping consumers from snacking.
“Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, we’ve seen more people working from home,” explains Tara Murray, marketing vp at Fresh Innovations in Rhome, Texas. “When it comes to their meal occasions, they prefer snacking throughout the day rather than consuming three large meals.” However, she continues, “Consumers are looking for better-for-you snacks that will feed their minds and bodies,” prompting dip and spread makers to develop healthier ready-to-eat snacks.
Whitney agrees, calling the blurring of the line between meals and snacks a real advantage for manufacturers. “It creates opportunities for products like ours to become the centerpieces of meals,” especially among the younger generation. In fact, recent research from Statistica reveals that 52% of those in the 18-to-24 and 25-to-34 age groups and 53% of those aged 35 to 44 say they spend more time snacking than eating full meals. But only 42% of those in the 45-to-54 cohort said the same.
CONSUMERS WANT MORE MEXICAN
A recent Dataessential survey of 4,000 U.S. consumers found that Mexican was the most missed restaurant cuisine during the pandemic quarantine. It comes as no surprise, then, that salsa rates as the most common dip in U.S. households with an 80% penetration.
To satisfy consumers’ need for new flavor options, Orange, Calif.-based MegaMex Foods, part of Hormel, is adding several new flavors to its Herdez lineup, including Salsa Mexicana (two heat levels), Salsa Piquiña, Salsa Roasted Poblana and Avocado Tomatillo Salsa. All are gluten-free, kosher, and contain no added sugar or water.
Fresh Innovations is also jumping on the Mexican flavor bandwagon, launching ¡Yo Quiero! brand Mexican-style Elote Dip in two heat levels. Introduced right before the Super Bowl, this street-corn dip contains corn, peppers and cotija cheese and is vegetarian and gluten-free. “We decided on an elote dip because there are few products like it on the market, and it complements our current dip lineup,” says Murray.
52% of those in the 18-to-24 and 25-to-34 age groups say they spend more time snacking than eating full meals.
Another new plant-based Mexican dip comes from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based Good Foods, which added Spicy Queso Blanco Style Dip to its portfolio last fall. It’s been such a hit, reports omni-channel marketing director Briana Voss, that the company’s plant-based dip sales are up 19% since last year. She attributes part of its success to the Good Foods’ use of high pressure processing (HPP), a cold pasteurization process that helps products maintain nutrition and freshness without preservatives.
Due to high demand for single-serve options, Good Foods has also created single-serving sizes of its Chunky and Spicy Guacamole, Avocado Mash, and most of the company’s plant-based dips, including Queso Style Dip, Buffalo Style Dip and Tzatziki Dip, says Voss.
In the hummus segment, Fresh Cravings is also adding some bold new flavors. After exhaustive research and consumer testing panels, “We landed on Spicy Red Pepper, Everything Bagel and Honey Jalapeño,” reports Whitney. “We also plan to launch a new category extension in dips (not unveiled yet) later this year.” To draw in customers, the new additions sport new packaging featuring images of fruits and vegetables in vibrant colors. “The visual display of these flavors really pops with the mixed ingredient center that’s visible through the clear lids,” says Whitney.
Another cool new hummus flavor to watch for comes from Rochester, N.Y.-based Ithaca Hummus. Expected to hit stores next month, the company’s co-branded Grillo’s Pickles variety can be used like traditional hummus or to “add an extra kick to burgers and hot dogs.” The company is also rolling out a “first-of-its-kind” collection of 3-ounce hummus pouches. The lunchbox-friendly Ithaca Squeeze lineup includes Red Pepper, Plain and Beet varieties.
PLANT-BASED PICKS UP
While products like hummus are naturally plant-based, consumers are starting to seek out plant-based alternatives to dairy dips as well. To meet that demand, Missoula, Mont.-based Plant Perks recently launched Super Clean Sour Cream made with water, cashews, sea salt and cultures and fermented just like dairy cheese to achieve that tangy flavor, says founder, CEO and chef Tiffany Perkins. Next up for the company is Plant Based Butter in two flavors: Sea Salt and Cinnamon & Sugar.
Dollar sales in the three largest subcategories rose 11.2%, 3.1% and 4.0%, respectively, during the 12 weeks ended Feb. 20. In two of them, unit sales were up as well.
The folks at Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Wildbrine are also working on the next new thing in plant-based. To accompany the four new dairy-free dips in the company’s cultured Wildcreamery lineup (French Onion, Ranch, Spinach and Chipotle Lime), the company is experimenting with various roasted garlic dips, spreads and butter items. “To achieve that true home-kitchen flavor, we invested in convection ovens to slow-roast whole garlic cloves so we can deliver the sweet, caramelized flavor the consumer would get roasting garlic in their own kitchens,” says co-owner Chris Glab.
Another plant-based dairy item to watch for comes from Regina, Saskatchewan-based Above Food, which is bringing its Culcherd soft cheese spreads to the U.S. this summer — including the NEXTY Award finalist Everything Bagel variety. Made with naturally fermented cultured cashews, the Culcherd line also includes plant-based shreds and butter.
There’s also been a lot of activity in the plant-based cream cheese segment recently. Last fall, The Urgent Co., Los Angeles, introduced four flavored cream cheeses (Strawberry, Spring Onion + Chive, Harissa Pepper and Plain) made with Perfect Day animal-free dairy under its Modern Kitchen brand. And earlier this year, Vancouver-based Daiya added Roasted Garlic & Herbs Cream Cheeze to its recently reformulated plant-based cream cheese alternative lineup.