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Spice performance is bland at best.

Adventurous Americans are said to be enjoying a greater variety of herbs and spices than ever before. But as more and more women trade in their brooms for briefcases and their spatulas for steno pads, scratch cooking slackens off, along with supermarket spice sales.

Tom Burns, executive vice president of the American Spice Trade Association, says per capita spice consumption exceeds 2 pounds today, compared with 1 pound in 1960 and 1.8 pounds in 1981. However, he says grocery store sales now represent only 40% of total spice poundage, compared with 60% sold through supers back in the 1950s. And the quantity of spices sold to food service and industrial users continues to climb, as busy consumers opt for eating out or dining at home on frozen prepared foods.

"Spices, seasonings and pepper were down 2.2% in pounds last year and were up 0.4% in dollars," says Ken Schaeffer, group product manager at SCM Corporation's Durkee Famous Foods, the runner-up in market share, after category leader McCormick. "As the economy improves, convenience foods become stronger and there's more eating out."

A spokesperson for the Spice Division of R.T. French Company, which holds third place in market share, says, "The branded categories are getting continuous pressure from low-priced items such as private label, generic and less expensive regional brands. These often appeal to the ethnic needs of the community and are usually sold through non-traditional merchandising channels."

However, Durkee's Schaeffer says, "Private label is weakening." He calls it a "dull line," since most private label spice lines--with the exception of those offered by large chains such as Safeway, Kroger, A&P and Winn-Dixie--aren't big on variety. What's hot

Among the spices and herbs that are "hot" now, Burns cites oregano, for use in Italian and Mexican food preparation, and cumin seed, which is used in Indian, Mexican and Caribbean specialties.

Schaeffer points to bacon-flavored seasoning products, chili powder, and garlic salt, onion salt and celery salt as being among the spice items that seem to have recently "fallen off."

It's no surprise that table salt sales continue to be "of" as well. "In terms of the overall category, the decline goes back at least half a dozen years," says Morton Salt Company's Ray Buschmann, vice president and counsel.

Helping consumers shake the salt habit are companies such as Lawry's, Durkee and Alberto-Culver, all of which recently introduced salt alternative products. Lawry's Seasoned Salt Free was developed last year. Alberto-Culver's Mrs. Dash, a salt-free blend of herbs and spices was unveiled last July and has just added a new low-pepper, no-garlic variety. Durkee's Light Seasoned Salt was rolled out nationally in September of '83. (For more details, see Dietetic and Low-Calorie Foods.)

One trend that became apparent at French's recently was the desire of many consumers to move up to larger size spice containers. Because of this, the company now offers a 19-1/2-ounce jar for an item such as garlic powder and an intermediate size jar, approximately 10 ounces, for some of its most popular items. This helps supermarkets compete with mass merchandisers, most of whom attract shoppers with large size spice containers at appetizing prices.

One mass merchandiser spice supplier, Spice Time Foods Inc. of Brooklyn, N.Y. is making its first major move into supers this number by offering a dozen Twist-Top Spice Grinder items under the Cannamela brand name. The "one price line" will be rolled out from east to west.

Also relatively new to the supermarket spice section is a line of seasoning mixes from Perfect Pinch inc., Chicago, which came out nationally last year. Now offered in all states but Utah, Arizona and Colorado, the blend of dehydrated vegetables and other spices, available in six varieties, is formulated to season chili, chicken, greens and stuffings.

The extract picture in 1983 was a distasteful one for manufacturers. The category was "off" considerably due, in large part, to the failure of the Cambridge Diet Plan, which had promoted the use of extracts for malt beverage preparation and had sent the category soaring. "We saw the surge in 1982," recalls a spokesman at R.T. French, calling it "a shooting star." However, he adds that the category last year did not fall back to previous levels. "People found more uses for extracts--in drink mixes, for instance--perhaps as a result of some of the things they learned from the Cambridge Diet Plan."
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Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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