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So Fresh, So Clean.

Byline: Randy Hofbauer

Natural, healthful, exotic offerings rule in refrigerated dressings and dips.

Take one look at salad dressings and dips, and, as with so many other categories today, it's not hard to see the potential for fresh, clean offerings.

Chicago-based market researcher Mintel shows in its May 2016 "Sweet & Savoury Spreads" Category Insight that 30 percent of Americans who buy chips or dips agree that "no artificial ingredients" is an important nutritional attribute. Additionally, in its September 2016 "Table Sauces and Seasonings" Category Insight, Mintel notes that refrigerated options are likely to drive growth in condiments -- including salad dressings -- due to consumers' increased interest in chilled foods for fresher, more healthful options.

Data from Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm Nielsen correspond with this finding, at least on the salad dressing side. While shelf-stable dressings saw flat to declining dollar sales during the 52 weeks ending Jan. 14 -- creamy down 3.9 percent, liquid flat, and reduced- or low-calorie down 7 percent -- refrigerated offerings enjoyed 1.9 percent sales growth.

Dips, however, saw flat sales in the shelf-stable sector and a 2.1 percent decline in refrigerated -- the sector more likely to have fresher, cleaner options. While consumers could be dipping less, their continued penchant for snacking could also suggest that they're trading over to other products -- such as refrigerated dressings -- for their dipping needs.

Naturally Cool

Still, opportunities definitely exist in both dressings and dips on the refrigerated side. Camille Balfanz, brand manager with Litehouse Inc., a Sandpoint, Idaho-based manufacturer of refrigerated dressings, dips and more, notes that the overall trend of shopping the perimeter and opting for fresh food over shelf-stable brands has spilled into these areas, creating growing interest. Moreover, shoppers are continuing to read and analyze nutrition panels before making purchases, searching for cleaner and better ingredients.

Campbell Fresh is one such brand owner working to include better ingredients in its dressings and dips, according to Todd Putman, general manager, CPG at the division of the Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Soup Co. For instance, in February, Campbell Fresh introduced a line of organic refrigerated Bolthouse Farms dressings that are lower in calories and fat while maintaining a rich, creamy flavor.

Artificial anything also counts, as food retailers have myriad preservative-free options in refrigerated dips and dressings. Take Litehouse, for example, which features such claims as "no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives" and "no high-fructose corn syrup" on its products.

And don't discount the importance of origin when sourcing refrigerated dressings and dips, as consumers want to know more about the foods they consume than ever before. According to Mintel, brands can better appease consumers in this regard by communicating regional sourcing, with "manufacturers indicating on pack where ingredients and recipes are from." Retailers, too, can promote origins via in-store marketing materials.

As for flavors, premium products naturally tend to go the route of "artisan" and "exotic," which happen to be huge in dips and dressings right now, points out Brittany Nikolich, a registered dietitian with De Pere, Wis.-based grocer Festival Foods. With dips, Festival has had success catering to today's adventurous Millennials and "foodies" with meze (Mediterranean pre-meal snacks) dips from Norwich, N.Y.-based Chobani, as well as hummus varieties made with veggies and beans besides chickpeas -- such as white and black beans, carrots, beets, and edamame.

Campbell Fresh, too, is going for more artisan flavors with its recently launched "restaurant-style" salsa, which it touts as more "savory-tasting," in conventional and organic varieties.

With dressings, Balfanz says that Litehouse and its retailer partners have seen great success with its newer Opa by Litehouse Greek Yogurt dressings. Hot flavors in the line include Tzatziki Ranch, Strawberry Poppyseed, Avocado Cilantro and Roasted Garlic.

Proper Placement, Promos

Of course, whatever the new product is, communication counts. Whether it's a fresh salsa or a Greek yogurt-based dressing, as long as consumers don't know it exists, they might not be looking for the hottest new item, according to Eric Greifenberger, VP of marketing with White Plains, N.Y.-based Sabra Dipping Co. Grocers can help in-store by making sure staff knows to point anyone seeking dips or dressings to the deli section for refrigerated and fresher options.

With dips, showcasing items near carriers is important to create a streamlined, solution-based shopping experience for consumers. Baby carrots and pita chips, for example, work well alongside dip options in displays. Nikolich agrees, noting that Festival's deli packages fresh-cut produce such as carrots, broccoli and celery with individually sized cups of Sabra hummus as a grab-and-go snack item.

"By packaging these dips with "dip vessels,' these snack-pack items have proven to be a convenient way for guests to try new dips while enjoying a portable snack," she says.

Dips and dressings also promote well via coupons, Campbell Fresh's Putman notes, as well as through "dietitian-approved" listings, which Nikolich says Festival does frequently.

"Whether through promoting the product on its own or featuring it in a recipe and showing how certain dressings and dips can be paired with a variety of foods, it helps our guests understand the versatility of the dips and dressings, and encourages them to explore their own favorite way to incorporate the dip or dressing into their weekly meal plan," she observes.

Seasonal promotions for refrigerated dressings and dips help, too, and offer an opportunity for grocers to brainstorm new ways to push products with their supplier partners. Litehouse, for instance, created a highly effective retail campaign around football season, Bring on the Heat, which featured Litehouse Blue Cheese and Homestyle Ranch as the "perfect cool dip complement to hot wings," according to Balfanz.

"We created an integrated marketing campaign that included on-shelf promotion, on-pack instantly redeemable coupons, in-store signage and POS materials, and secondary-display support," she says. "In addition, consumers could enter a sweepstakes for a football party-in-a-box when they voted for their favorite dip. ... We amplified the promotion by reaching out to our 400,000-plus Facebook fans and across our other digital platforms."

And whether it's a dressing or dip -- or even a sauce or condiment -- versatility can be a boon for sales. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. consumers use condiments and dressings as a dip, while 68 percent use them with a snack, Mintel notes. Meanwhile, 60 percent mix condiments and/or dressings together, while 73 percent add their own seasonings or ingredients.

Hybrid products could be important for grabbing shoppers' attention. But food retailers looking to sell more refrigerated dips and dressings also might find it easier to simply select products for their shelves that lend themselves to customization, or marketing these items as creative outlets, possibly even with other condiments and sauces. PG

"Whether through promoting the product on its own or featuring it in a recipe and showing how certain dressings and dips can be paired with a variety of foods, it helps our guests understand the versatility of the dips and dressings, and encourages them to explore their own favorite way to incorporate the dip or dressing into their weekly meal plan."

--Brittany Nikolich, Festival Foods
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Author:Hofbauer, Randy
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2017
Words:1311
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