If you’ve been down the sauce aisle at your local supermarket recently, you may have noticed a bit of a change. For decades, those shelves would have been stacked high with gleaming bottles of ketchup, brown sauce, and English mustard, bookended by horseradish cream and tartare sauce for the adventurous types.
However, more recently, the variety of condiments on offer has boomed. From BBQ to burger sauce, red hot sriracha to Reggae-Reggae sauce, and plenty more besides.
And as well as ceding some of their shelf space, it seems that ketchup and brown sauce are diminishing in the public consciousness too. According to new figures by analysts at Kantar Worldpanel for trade journal The Grocer, sales of brown sauce dropped by 2.8pc in the 12 months leading to May 2019, while ketchup and salad cream sales stagnated at 0.2 and 0.1pc respectively.
But what will replace these titans of the condiment aisle? Well, at the moment, it looks like mayonnaise is on the up in a big way. In the same period, sales of the egg-based condiment have soared by 10.3pc to £171.1m, £17.8m higher than ketchup.
One only need take a look at supermarket shelves to see that the mayonnaise craze is in full force. Alongside classic mayo there are newer options including baconnaise (bacon-flavoured mayonnaise), burger sauce (mayonnaise with sweet chilli relish and mustard), and Saucey-Sauce (a mayonnaise and ketchup blend). This Easter, we even saw a limited edition Creme Egg mayonnaise.
Mayo stalwarts Heinz are far from the only brand who’ve picked up on Britons’ taste for something new. Kantar’s analysts found the fastest growing sauce brand was Nando’s Peri-Peri mayonnaise, up 53pc to £8million, while Blue Dragon’s sriracha-flavoured mayonnaise turned a cool £16m with a 16pc rise in sales.
Heat is very much en vogue right now, with plenty of industry experts mentioning the popularity of spice with condiment customers being a constant which doesn’t seem to be fading. And mixing heat and mayonnaise is essentially a license to print money in today's condiment market.
But in addition, within the last five years we’ve seen a lot of challenger brands enter the market, thinks Desiree Parker, co-founder of the Foraging Fox, a young condiment brand which opened its doors in 2015. “If you did a story line of how ketchups have evolved in the UK it would look something like this: Last 120 years, one brand above all brands. Last 20 years: the emergence of the supermarket's own brand varieties. Last five years: The rise of the ethos-led challenger brands bringing new flavours and textures to the market.”
And it’s these challenger brands which are helping to reinvigorate the condiment scene, breathing new life into tired old tomato ketchup. And indeed why stick to tomato when you can have gherkin ketchup, truffle ketchup, beetroot ketchup and black garlic ketchup?
“The major players have been feeling the effects of being "too big to innovate" and that has a left a hole to fill,” explains Parker. “For us, we've always sought to push the boundaries whilst staying true to our ethos that great tasting food can be made with a list of simple, natural ingredients, sourced responsibly. People are paying more attention to what they're putting in their bodies and they're paying more attention to provenance.”
Surprisingly, Parker notes, the Foraging Fox has found its products becoming increasingly popular among young men and vegans who are potentially more health-conscious than previous generations.
“The trend towards natural, lower sugar products is also a trend that is going to keep growing as our children and our children's children become more and more educated about what is good to eat and what we could all benefit from eating less of,” she adds.
Tracklements is another ‘challenger brand’ whose sweet mustard ketchup has won plaudits from customers and critics (including the Telegraph's own taste testers) alike. Its twists on the classic ketchup formula have helped the brand offer something a bit different to customers and stay relevant, explains marketing manager, Liz Cuff.
“We've never been known as a foodie country, but we've got so many wonderful food producers and people are more aware of that than they were a couple of decades ago so they're seeking out things like best quality products,” she explains.
But Cuff points out that the rise in alternative dishes might be just another product of a changing society.
“People are a little bit more time-poor now so they're becoming more interested in what they're eating,” she adds. “They still want really good food, they want it to taste as good as home-made but they don't necessarily have the time to do it. They can add an extra spoonful of rosemary jelly to their chicken or they can marinade it in sweet mustard ketchup, so all that taste comes without much extra work, it fits better into modern day lifestyles.
In addition, there’s a level of versatility to be found in unusual and exotic condiments that aren’t necessarily replicated in traditional tomato ketchup.
“I would think of tomato sauce, and I think a lot of people would, as the type of thing you have on the side of the plate, with a burger, with chips etc. Whereas something with a sweet mustard ketchup you can use on the side of the plate, but it could also be a marinade for chicken, you could put it on halloumi, you could stir it into a potato salad. It becomes a flavour and an ingredient in your meal.”
And with all these new players springing up, the established brands are having to work harder to innovate. In recent years we’ve seen new twists on the tomato-y sauce both from established players like Heinz who’ve launched new varieties such as Roasted Garlic & Sun Dried Tomato and Aromatic Herb & Sweet Plum Vinegar ketchup, as well as sugar-free and low-salt versions of their original ketchup.
If you are a ketchup fan, then it seems there’s no reason to be dismayed at the ‘stagnation’ in sales of your old favourites; that might just mean your dinner plate is about to get a whole lot more exciting.