Back On The Sauce
The growth in pre-bought sauces has proved a huge success in Ireland in the past decade. The demand has increased the investment behind the products, and the market has accepted the consistent, health...
The growth in pre-bought sauces has proved a huge success in Ireland in the past decade. The demand has increased the investment behind the products, and the market has accepted the consistent, healthy and high quality approach taken by food suppliers. Hospitality Ireland reports.
Following its meteoric rise over the last decade Nando’s, or, as it calls itself, ‘the home of the legendary Portuguese flame-grilled peri-peri chicken’, is set to open its tenth restaurant in Ireland this year. The fast-casual chain’s key selling point is chicken, grilled in the customer’s choice of sauces (lime & coriander, lemon & herb, medium, hot, extra hot), with further self-selected sauces freely available to the customer to spice their meal to their own liking after it has been cooked and served. Part of Nando’s massive - and growing - appeal is the rapid development of the Irish palate in recent times; the ‘good, plain cooking’ of days of old in Ireland has been bypassed by a desire for punchy flavours and novel taste combinations, a phenomenon largely occasioned by the explosion in big-budget cookery book and TV show tie-ins. The growth in popularity of ‘backpacker’ style holidays in Thailand and South America has given rise to a major trend towards ‘street-food’ styles of cooking, with Irish consumers showing a new appreciation for the fresh tastes, textures and flavourful sauces that street-food-styles of cooking offer. Sauces, and in particular ethnic sauces, can prove to be a useful differentiator for restaurants and are often regarded as an added-value addition by customers, due to the fact that many patrons order dishes that they do not prepare at home when eating out.
However, while customers’ culinary demands of restaurants may be becoming increasingly cosmopolitan, the consumer search for good value trundles on, evidenced by the rise in casual-dining formats and the proliferation of meal deals (Early-Bird, Pre-Theatre and Bite’s recent ‘Pre-Gig’ offer), which consumers now expect as a matter of course across the spectrum of establishments. Margins grow smaller and smaller each year, and many kitchens simply can no longer afford to provide the man-hours that the creation of dish-specific sauces and marinades requires. One solution for restaurants seeking to bridge the gap between consumer desire for difference and yet their growing reluctance to spend is the adoption of pre-made sauces and pastes in dishes, which can save both money and time. Indeed, ever-attuned to the needs of their clients, many food suppliers have upped their game in this regard, with many now offering sophisticated and consumer-focused sauce solutions, such as Laksa and Char Siu paste, concentrated Szechuan sauce and mango & jalapeno glaze to name just a few in this new generation of highly modern pre-made sauces. The level of quality which food solution providers now offer is evident in the fact that over 75% of Indian restaurants in the UK utilize Patak’s pastes in their curries.
As well as saving chefs time (which can the be better put towards the creation of further differentiators, such as homemade naan bread, for example), pre-made sauces offer considerable savings in monetary terms, as the ingredients which often make sauces unique and idiosyncratic (lemon grass in Thai Green Curry; curry leaves in a Madras) can often be expensive and hard to source. Furthermore, if said ethnic dishes feature irregularly on the menu it often isn’t worth buying the components of the dish on a once-off basis, as they will almost certainly have passed their best by the time they are next required, causing wastage and associated costs. Unilever’s Global World Menu Report found that the problem of food waste is costing the Irish food service industry €125 million annually, with each tonne of waste costing establishments up to €2000 each year. Indeed, a study undertaken in 2011 by the Sustainable Restaurant Association found that 65% of the wasting of food occurs at preparation stage, compared to the 30% that is left on consumers’ plates.
Crucially, pre-made sauces offer a large degree of flexibility to the chef and can be utilized in a wide variety of ways in the kitchen. Indeed, instead of slashing prices beyond the point of no return, chefs can add perceived value to the meal by providing timely, flavourful accompaniments: dipping sauces made using concentrates and pastes or quesadillas made with pre-made salsas and guacamoles to accompany drinks. One of the most interesting ways of adding value to meal with a pre-made sauce, as suggested by Knorr, is the use of their ‘Create More’ Tomato & Basil sauce as an ingredient in tomato focaccia, using one part concentrated sauce to ten parts water in the dough, a dynamic means of avoiding waste once the jar has been opened. This focaccia can then be further ‘tarted up’ with the addition of sliced sunblush tomatoes, diced rosemary or any other herbs - the little added-value touches that will encourage the customer to return time and time again.
Another advantage to pre-made sauces is that they can often make up a component of a healthier menu options, adding flavour and profit margin to vegetarian and low-fat dishes as many of these pre-made sauces have been carefully formulated in recent times to contain lower levels of salt and oil. All of Knorr Patak's pastes, for example, are suitable for gluten free, vegetarian and vegan diets. Similarly, all of the options in Knorr’s Create More range are free from added MSG, artificial colours and flavours, and meet Department of Health UK 2012 Salt Reduction Targets for Sauces. Knorr’s Create More Thai Green Curry sauce could be utilised in a healthy fish-cake option; Create More Satay sauce could be utilized in a vegetarian noodle salad. This approach offers the exotic flavours that many customers like to choose whilst eating out, but without the high calorie count that these dishes often contain. Indeed, Unilever’s most recent World Menu Report, entitled ‘Seductive Nutrition’, found that on the whole, “people really want to be given the option of eating slightly healthier food when they are dining out, but without having to compromise on taste or the feeling that it is a treat”. However, despite a call for healthier choices, consumers are not in fact demanding a complete overhaul of restaurant menus: a large proportion (65%) of those questioned said that they would like a ‘slightly’ healthier dish when eating out. Therefore, according to the report, instead of having to introduce new, ‘healthy’ creations to their menus, ‘operators should focus instead on making small changes to their top-selling dishes to make them healthier’, a process which can be achieved by utilizing carefully nutrionally-calibrated pre-made sauces, and enhanced still further by positioning these healthier dishes appealingly.
Another benefit in purchasing pre-made sauces for your kitchen is the time-friendly versatility to chop and change your menu. Mars’ Uncle Bens and Dolmio brands include a whole range of sauces, which offer key opportunities to mix-up your offerings while staying true to their high quality produce and consistency of taste. “We don’t just have a wide range of sauces, but also by mixing some of our products - with quick and easy recipes supplied by us - you can create vastly different flavours and make the products far more usable,” says Paddy Brady, development chef at Mars Foodservice. “For example, here is a quick and easy way to adapt your offering from standard sweet chilli flavours to buffalo flavour or ranch dressing. If you mix Uncle Bens Texan BBQ with Sweet Thai Chilli at a ratio of 2:1, you can make a Cajun chicken sauce, if you mix it at 1:2 you get sticky Buffalo Wings. Also we are the first to be able to offer Dolmio Creamy Lasagne Sauce in pal jars, which offers a new dimension to the trade. You can buy it in quantities and packaging identical to other sauces now.”
All Dolmio and Uncle Bens sauces are vegetarian-friendly and gluten free, which is becoming more and more important to an industry undergoing incredible change in healthy food requests. “Another key aspect is the need to count calories,” explains Brian Furey, marketing activation manager at Mars. “It is very labourintensive to go about evaluating every dish but, when using our sauces, as long as you stick to the measurements the maths is already done for you.”
One final note is the expertise behind which these products are all created. The development kitchen for Uncle Bens and Dolmio enjoys far greater resources than can be called on in many kitchens in Ireland. What has started to become a norm is chefs looking to make their own sauces, but still buying in pre-made variants as a base for their product. “I’m a chef and I know what it is like,” explains Paddy. “You want to make your own pasta sauce but you use Dolmio as a base, and alter the flavours around that to your own taste. More wine for some people, extra garlic for others. The scope is massive.”
Excellence supplies the leading Schwartz, Hammonds and Bick’s ranges of sauces, mustards, dressings and relishes throughout the trade; with the complete range a unique selling point that few companies could rival. Paul Ivory, director at Excellence Ltd, knows first hand the popularity of these high-quality products. “The breadth of the range that is available, the quality of same, and also the ease of use in the kitchen is what appeals to our clients,” he says. “Sauces such as Cranberry, Mint, Tartar and Horseradish can be used as an accompaniment to all dishes; other sauces such as Barbeque, Hickory Barbeque and Hot Chilli can be used as either a dipping sauce, in marinades or as a ‘cook-in’ sauce too. We have a full range of mustards including the ever-popular Wholegrain and English mustards; and our selection of dressings include the highest quality Caesar, French and 1000 Island.” Excellence also has the popular Bick’s range of sauces and relishes; with two recently added exciting flavours now available in Ireland. Both Zingy Onion and Fiery Jalapeño relishes joined the range, which includes Hot Mexican Chilli salsa, Crunchy Sweetcorn relish, Mild Mexican Chilli salsa and Classic
Hamburger relish. This renowned brand provides accompaniments perfect for a wide variety of dishes-from barbecued specialities through to grilled favourites.“You don’t necessarily want someone working for more hours than is needed preparing sauces, seasonings and marinades,because there is obviously a cost there. What we can offer are products that offer the same level of taste, quality and value, for a fraction of the cost, offering a larger mark up,” says Paul.
“We are seeing that Irish people are still eating out and, as their eating habits have changed, so too have our customers’ orders,” says Mark McCarthy, business development chef at Unilever Food Solutions. “More and more, we find that Irish chefs and operators are looking for foods to add interest and excitement to their menus. They are looking for new meal occasions, new product innovation, being proactive about their customers’ health and nutrition, and using local and seasonal produce in their menus.” Unilever works closely with Irish chefs and what is clear is that value for money is key. “If we at Unilever Food Solutions are to remain relevant and continue to help and supportchefs and operators, we need to add value to their food offering. Our Knorr Create More range is a perfect example of this. Our Knorr Create More Concentrated Sauces offer unrivalled versatility in a busy kitchen. There are quantifiable benefits to chefs who use these as they are proven to help reduce waste in the kitchen. Our new packaging, meanwhile, means the product takes up less space in the kitchen, freeing up valuable store-room space.” All that a chef needs is to add water and a dash of his own inspiration to create a wide variety of dishes, both hot and cold. The ready-to-use products are fully finished authentic tasting sauces for maximum consistency, meaning you just add protein and vegetables, heat and serve. “We recently launched two new sauces as part of our Knorr Create More Concentrated Sauces range: Knorr Create More Spicy Tomato Concentrated Sauce and Knorr Create More Tomato & Basil Concentrated Sauce. They have been successfully trialled and tested to balance the taste, time, skill, cost and resource equation, while still allowing chefs to create signature sauces for a tasty dish. As a chef, I know just how important this can be; I want to be able to showcase my chefmanship, but I also need to be able to manage my time effectively in the kitchen.” Unilever has also launched a really fun competition to celebrate the new product range. “Our Ambassador of Versatility, Steve, is calling on chefs around the country to challenge him to show just how versatile the sauces really are, with the ten best challenges winning an Apple iPad mini. I would encourage everyone to log on to www.knorrcreatemore.ie to find out more.”