There was a time, not long ago, when we had a choice between tomato ketchup or chilli sauce out of a bottle when we felt like dipping our snacks into something for that extra zing. Or we made chutneys at home to go with the snack. Today, we have a choice of packaged, branded sauces and dips, in an array of flavours both Western and Indian.
Sample this: Tanupam Akuli, who grew up in a small town in West Bengal, was habituated to gorging on hot samosas with tamarind chutney at a local halwai's shop. Working in Mumbai today, every time he orders samosas from the office canteen, he reaches into his desk drawer for a flexible Imli (tamarind) Pichkoo pack from Nestle's Maggi.
Indian consumers – certainly the urban consumers – have expanded their sauce fancy to more than the tomato ketchup and chilli sauce, even as ketchup often becomes a convenient replacement for homemade chutneys.
"Many households have adopted ketchup, using it as an add-on with almost everything. Indian snacks (samosa), or parathas are now eaten with ketchup instead of chutney," said Devendra Chawla, president, food & FMCG business, Future Group. Ketchup sales have recently been growing at a healthy 30% per year.
However, companies who offer branded ketchups in India have also been launching other sauces which have been growing at anywhere between 10-20% per annum as the Indian palate expands to their consumption.
"There are also variants being launched, such as snack sauces (that contribute single digit sales shares currently but growing fast), imli chutney, hot and sweet sauces that keep the category fresh from time to time and help in garnering additional consumption. Then there is the cooking sauce segment which is 33% of the category and is fuelling growth. In fact, soy sauce and pasta sauce are growing at much higher pace (over 40%)," said Chawla.
The ketchup and sauces market in India is estimated to be about Rs. 1,000 crore by Technopak Advisors. Nestle's Maggi enjoys the leadership position even as the category is seeing growth with the experiments by other brands. So new entrant Del Monte, which has already launched ketchup and mustard sauces, is lining up new variants and flavours, and intends to innovate with packaging as well.
"The potential is tremendous, as the exposure has gone up. The quick serving restaurant industry is growing, and there is more media exposure including cookery shows," said Yogesh Bellani, COO, Fieldfresh Foods. "In this space, there are a lot of new experiments and innovations. A lot of it is reflected back in home consumption. Consumers are interacting more with newer products at home after experimenting outside. There is a willingness to experiment and spend on newer things."
That the Indian consumer is more open to the newer offerings in sauces and dips is perhaps evidenced in Domino's popular offering, for a price, of dips ranging from cheese to jalapeno flavours with its non-pizza fare, which consumers are willing to pay for. And thanks to the growing popularity of international cuisines such as Italian, Thai, Mexican and other foods, a new dimension has been added wherein sauces are catching up fast with ketchup.
Indu Chopra, who runs an exotic tiffin service in south Mumbai, reflected the at-home consumption shifts in favour of more sauce-driven foods when she said: "There seems to be a competition among ketchup companies as all of them are rolling out sauces of all kinds. For me, it translates to much more convenience as my business caters to a clientele for whom I need to try different kind of sauces ranging from schezwan, white sauce, mint and even different sauce powders."
So how much hotter can the sauces category get?
"The market for sauces is very fragmented and still evolving. The potential for growth exists but is possible only if the products are relevant and well-differentiated," said Shivani Hegde, general manager – foods, Nestle India. The company has recently been expanding its sauces category and has introduced both, a tamarind sauce and cooking sauces, in smaller packaging sizes.
The other ketchup major, Hindustan Unilever, from under its Kissan brand umbrella, has added to its plain tomato sauce offering by adding home sauces and pastes, besides offering a tomato-chilli sauce combine.
Homegrown brand Ching's Secret is quickly adding new variants – schezwan, green chilli, mushroom soy sauces – and powder packs in different flavours. It does not offer tomato ketchup, focusing on Chinese flavours instead.