Sauces are the magic elixir for food. They can serve as the flavor foundation of a dish, differentiate any menu item with a simple dollop and provide easy customization.
Operators are clearly seeing the value of sauces as a relatively easy route to any of those goals. Sauce mentions on menus have increased 3.7 percent overall in a three-year span, but sauces listed specifically as a side or extra grew a whopping 16 percent over that time period, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor data, reflecting the use of sauces as a way of customizing a dish. Letting guests decide what or how much sauce to use could also be a way of lowering the sodium and fat content that will have to be disclosed for a standard menu item under menu-labeling rules.
Here’s the outlook for sauces, based on Technomic’s data.
Customization without complexity
With 51 percent of consumers saying it’s important to be able to customize or choose from a variety of sauces and condiments at restaurants, sauces will be the go-to customization component of future dining occasions.
The Greene Turtle recently released Slamma Jamma Tenders, breaded chicken tenders with a choice of dipping sauce: Raspberry Moonshine, Chipotle Honey Mustard and Maple Jalapeño Bacon. By taking such a standard yet craveable item as chicken tenders and pushing the flavor boundaries with innovative sauces of a diner’s choosing, the chain attracts a wide range of customers and gives them a reason to come back (i.e., to sample the same product with a different sauce). And adding exponentially more product choices without requiring more back-of-the-house prep is an additional bonus for operators looking to avoid kitchen complications.
Familiar sauce, novel flavor highlights
To get more versatility out of dishes that are popular with consumers, operators are trying slight modifications on a sauce and using it with its traditional pairing partner to appeal to both more habitual customers and those looking for a bit of the unfamiliar.
More spirit in the sauce
We’ll continue to see liquors and alcoholic drinks be used as sauce flavorings. With whiskey maintaining its momentum in the spirits industry, look for whiskey-infused sauces in restaurants, particularly rising whiskey brands like Fireball Cinnamon Whisky. A more interesting trend on the rise: ethnic cocktail flavors like a piña colada or sangria infused into sauces.
More precise IDs
As customers become more educated about and interested in various types of foods, operators will need to more precisely specify the sauce and condiment types that are used. Is it a chutney or a relish? Already, chutney and relish mentions have grown 2.5 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, over the past three years. Differentiating the sauces and condiments will further the authentic appeal of a brand.
Classic sauces from global cuisines are on the rise. French sauces like gribiche and ravigote; gochujang, a staple in Korean cuisine; and sauces made from up-and-coming ethnic chiles are slated to grow on U.S. menus.