You would be hard-pressed to find a kitchen cupboard in the UK that did not contain some kind of bottled sauce. Indeed, most will be stocked with six to 10 variants.
Over the past few years, brands familiar in one area of bottled sauces have expanded into others in pursuit of additional sales. With almost 100% penetration, though, manufacturers have had to think laterally about how to build their brands and capitalise on the trust they have garnered. So Hellmann's, once associated only with mayonnaise, now competes with Heinz in the ketchup category, and in turn finds its traditional brand being challenged by Branston, which has added a Mayo range to its pickles.
The bottled-sauces sector is certainly varied. Table sauces, which include mustard and vinegar, as well as dish-specific variants, brown sauce and ketchup, account for more than half the market (53%). These are followed by mayonnaise, which makes up 21%.
Mintel estimated the market to be worth £555m last year, following growth of 26% over the preceding five years. In 2009, ketchup alone accounted for £145m worth of sales.
Dish-specific sauces are used most often by older consumers. Inevitably, then, manufacturers and retailers are seeking ways to appeal to younger shoppers to ensure the long-term success of these condiments. Within this segment, soy now outsells mint sauce, an indication that Britons are becoming more adventurous in the kitchen and that the traditional 'meat and two veg' is starting to lose out to world cuisine.
Vinegar, and to some degree mustard, have also risen in popularity. Sales of the former increased by 23% between 2005 and 2009, and those of the latter by 12%.
Innovation across the market has centred on flavours and pack sizes. Heinz, for example, has made many of its variants, such as HP Brown Sauce, available in squeezable 285g bottles, which it claims are convenient for occasions such as picnics.
The healthy-eating trend, meanwhile, has had a mixed impact. Sauces tend to be used in small quantities, so shoppers are less likely to obsess about the ingredients listed on the label, although this does depend on what the sauce is being used for. Ketchup eaten with chips, for instance, is likely to be seen as an indulgent treat, so reduced-sugar variants are less sought-after. Mayonnaise, though, is often eaten with healthier food such as salad, so low-fat versions are selling well.
Heinz's cross-category advertising campaign, 'It has to be Heinz', has maximised its brand credentials across all relevant food categories. While its value has increased in the ketchup segment, however, its market share has fallen, albeit slightly, despite its Twisted range of spicy variants. The brand, which also owns Lea & Perrins, Amoy and Daddies, has continued its offensive on Hellmann's mayonnaise stronghold through its Deli Mayo line.
Premier Foods is also challenging Hellmann's through its Branston Mayo with a Twist range, which has built up a reputation in the pickles and relishes segment for being big on flavour. However, Unilever's Hellmann's has fought back by extending its mayonnaise range with a Dijon mustard version, as well as lemon and chilli variants.
These innovations in mayonnaise have contributed to an increase in both sales and the number of users in the past few years.
Hellmann's Mayonnaise accounts for 75% of the mayo market, having increased its share by 32% between 2005 and 2009. The brand was extended into ketchup in March last year - supported by a £500,000 marketing campaign spanning sampling, outdoor, print and PR - following a successful trial in Tesco stores.
Tracey Wilson, Hellmann's brand manager, says: 'Hellmann's resonates strongly with consumers. In 2009, we launched Salad Cream, and it seemed to be a natural transition to add ketchup to the range in order to strengthen the brand offering.'
Rising commodity prices will have an effect on the value of bottled sauces. Nevertheless, Mintel predicts the market will be worth £692m by 2015, a 25% increase on last year.