By Lucas Witman
In the world of specialty food, it is possible that no subcategory of the industry is as well-established as the spices and seasonings market. In fact, the centuries-old spice trade can be seen as an embryonic enterprise that would later develop into a global fascination with gourmet edibles. Today, while each kitchen pantry is unique in the groceries it contains, nearly every one contains a requisite spice rack, most often replete with the same standardized selection of herbs and seasonings. It can be a difficult task to break into and innovative an industry that has been so firmly established over its lengthy history.
For companies hoping to shake up the seasonings market and compel consumers to introduce something new to their spice racks, it is important to find a way to stand out from the crowd and catch shoppers’ attentions.
Perhaps the best way for a seasonings and spices company to mark its products as truly innovative is to offer something that is not available anywhere else. This is the strategy employed by The Spice Lab, which has more than 200 different salts in its product portfolio, in addition to 24 spices. The Spice Lab goes out of its way to source unique products from all over the world, some of which have never before been available commercially.
“All of the salts, we source them from artisanal producers around the world,” said Brett Kramer, owner of The Spice Lab. “A couple companies out there, they have a couple dozen salts and that’s it—the same couple dozen salts for five-six-seven-eight years. We go out there, and we find the guy literally in Nowhere, Africa or Nowhere, Japan or Nowhere, Kauai…By doing that, you end up with stuff that’s not cheap, but it’s…phenomenal.”
According to Kramer, it is important that The Spice Lab fosters an identity as a high-end brand within the larger seasonings market. “We go out and find the best stuff. We’re by no means the cheapest guy on the shelf. We’re probably up there with one of the more expensive bottles on the shelf. When people buy the product, they know that they get what they’re paying for,” he said.
The Spice Lab is also working to stay competitive in the industry through presenting its products in creative packaging. “The packaging is innovative,” Kramer said. “The way we do the kits and the practicality of what we’re doing—We’re making not just a great product, but a great looking product.”
For some companies, finding success in today’s specialty seasonings and spices industry can mean reaching out to a new market. Popular brand Kernel Seasons has done this by marketing its diverse portfolio of popcorn seasonings in movie theaters. Kernel Seasons offers its seasonings in an array of creative flavors, both sweet and savory. The seasonings are great on popcorn, but also serve as a terrific addition to pasta, pizza, potatoes, vegetables, eggs and more. Brian Taylor, founder of Kernel Seasons, attributes his company’s success to finding its niche.
“The thing that really sets us apart is our presence in the movie theaters and the fact that we really pin our seasonings to popcorn,” Taylor said. “I think we’re innovative in terms of the types of flavors that we offer, the quality that we offer, the look and feel of the packaging…It’s a really fun look and feel for a really fun type of seasoning.”
As in all facets of the larger specialty food industry, in the world of seasonings and spices, successful companies are always in touch with what is trending among consumers. This can mean paying particular attention to cuisines, flavors and cooking techniques, but also to trends in consumer lifestyles.
“To remain competitive, we need to have our hand on the pulse of the industry,” said Ron Ratz, Director of Protein Development for Wixon. Wixon is a technology-focused company that has developed more than 7,000 flavors that keep customers excited about food.
For Ratz, one of the main food trends to which Wixon is currently responding is the omnipresent consumer desire to go gluten-free. The company is also reaching out to globalized eaters with what he calls: “more adventurous frequent flyer palates.” This means developing more international seasonings and bold flavors.
Kernel Seasons also makes a concerted effort to stay in touch with what is trending.
“There’s a real trend toward playability with food. Kids love to create their own,” Taylor said. He argues that today’s consumer wants to have fun with his or her food, and Kernel Seasons is actively courting this type of eater.
“We have really fun flavors. We’re a fun brand. We’re probably the most fun brand of seasoning out there,” he said.
One trend cited by both Ratz and Taylor as influencing the way their companies do business is the growing move toward at-home food preparation and a back-to-basics lifestyle.
“Foodservice has been struggling. People are eating at home. When preparing meals at home, people want delicious meals but also value added meals,” Ratz said. “If they’re going to trade down in price they want to add value with flavor.”
“There’s been kind of a back-to-the-earth [trend],” Taylor said. “People like popcorn because it’s the only snack that you can really make yourself, and Kernel Seasons fits right into that family process, that family tradition of making popcorn at home.”