Interest in condiments and sauces continues to grow as consumers look to customize the heat or flavor intensity of the foods they regularly enjoy. And though many consumers are willing to explore all types of sensory experiences, they tend to gravitate to a familiar base layered with intriguing flavors.

This interest in bigger flavors is driving innovation in the category, according to “Condiments and sauces: Culinary trend mapping report” by Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md., and the Center for Culinary Development (CCD), San Francisco.

“Condiments and sauces are the fashion accessories of the culinary world, and today more than ever they are a necessary part of the ensemble as diners seek enhanced food experiences and more global flavors, especially in their home kitchens,” says Kimberly Egan, chief executive officer of CCD.

Egan points out the growing trend in aioli, the versatile French-inspired condiment that is basically garlic mayonnaise. But the flavorful opportunities don’t stop with garlic, she says. Non-garlic flavors, including lemon, basil, chipotle, parsley, harissa and avocado are showing up in gourmet mayonnaise in both retail and foodservice.

Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., is the leader in flavored, packaged mayonnaise products with its Sandwich Shop Mayo line. The original line, which debuted in late 2010, consisted of one full-fat variety – hot and spicy – and three reduced-fat offerings – chipotle, garlic and herb and horseradish-Dijon. Earlier this year, three new flavors were added: full-fat lime, reduced-fat steakhouse (which is made with the company’s popular A1 steak sauce) and reduced fat olive oil and cracked pepper.

Ketchup comes to life

Though the mayonnaise category is experiencing innovation, the global table-sauces market continues to be dominated by tomato-based products, with a shift toward spicier and more complex flavors, according to Lu Ann Williams, research manager at Innova Market Insights, The Netherlands.

“There is a trend toward limited-edition products with unusual flavors, such as wasabi or tequila, or products featuring premium ingredients, such as balsamic vinegar, or made with a particular type of tomato,” she says.

Lisa Smith, CEO and co-creator of LeRoy’s Gourmet Flavored Ketchups, Milwaukee, a division of the MMGroup, is a fan of ketchup on just about any food, but says that unlike other condiments, such as salad dressings, barbecue sauce and even mayonnaise, the ketchup aisle was missing some flavorful opportunities.

“We took a great deal of time researching specialty ketchup, and our searches turned up fairly empty,” she says. “Yes, there were a couple of German companies making a fantastic curry ketchup, and one or two spicy ketchups out there – but they were very difficult to find and clearly not memorable enough to talk about.

“We wondered why unique flavors were not more accessible to the consumer,” she adds. “We changed that with our first three flavors: beer and onions, chili and smoky mesquite, which were quickly joined by dill pickle & celery and mustard spice.”

The product line’s introduction went better than expected, Smith says.

“In prior businesses, I learned that the only way to succeed is to actually listen,” she says. “We had a specific request from a national meat company to introduce a bacon flavor. Our chefs went to work immediately and crispy bacon rolled out just in time for the 2012 summer grilling season. It was soon joined by another culinary delight: ghost pepper and aged cheddar.”

The H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, whose flagship namesake product is the No. 1 ketchup brand in the United States, as well as throughout the world, appears to have recognized the opportunity. Heinz Ketchup Blended with Balsamic Vinegar started as a limited-edition flavor in fall 2011 and became part of the brand’s standard line-up of ketchup offerings this past May.

The sophisticated twist on the brand’s classic recipe is the first new flavor from the company in nearly a decade. It is made using traditional Heinz variety tomatoes and Heinz’s special blend of spices but blended with a tangy balsamic vinegar instead of traditional distilled white vinegar.

“We were thrilled with how people embraced the limited-edition flavor and are happy to announce that it will join the other varieties of Heinz Ketchup offered regularly,” says Eric Dahmer, senior brand manager for Heinz Ketchup. “People told us they loved the familiar, yet exciting taste and enjoy it as a key ingredient in favorite recipes and as a flavor-booster on mealtime foods, such as chicken, pork and steak to create a more sophisticated, robust taste.”

Specialty sauces go mainstream

Mainstream barbecue sauce marketers also appear to be stepping out of their comfort zone and dipping into a business that has been largely controlled by smaller specialty foods companies. Sweet Baby Ray’s, Chicago, now offers a raspberry chipotle flavored barbecue sauce, and Kraft Foods recently created the Garland Jack’s brand of premium barbecue sauces in flavors designed for Southern tastes, such as Squealin’ Hot and Sweet’n Sticky Molasses. The brand is functioning autonomously from Kraft, in order to separate itself from the company’s mainstream barbecue sauce brands: Bull’s-Eye and Kraft.

The Open Pit brand from Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, Mountain Lakes, NJ, is also a new entry to the category and this summer rolled out the Thick & Sweet sub-brand of barbecue sauces in three unique flavors: apple whiskey, spiced rum and sugar and bourbon.

ACH Food Companies Inc., Memphis, manufacturers of Weber-branded sauces and seasonings, is trying to set itself apart from the competition with new all-natural barbecue sauce made with real molasses.

“As a southerner, I’m a big fan of molasses,” says Elizabeth Karmel, author of “Taming the Flame,” executive chef at New York’s Hill Country Barbecue Market and Hill Country Chicken, and spokeswoman for Weber sauces and seasonings. “It has a richer, more complex flavor and the molasses is the key to creating a distinct, robust taste that you can’t get from high-fructose corn syrup.”

Further, using molasses means the sauce sticks to food rather than dripping into the grill, according to the company.

Smith says as consumers continue to experiment with layering flavors in foods, the opportunity for innovative condiments will continue to grow.

“The consumer these days has a very savvy palate, which is giving us a big window of opportunity,” she says.

Donna Berry is a contributing editor from Chicago and owner of Dairy & Food Communications, a company that specializes in writing, speaking and consulting projects in the dairy, beverage and food industries.