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Retailers are spicing up their shelves for the summer grilling season with sophisticated marinade blends, unusual barbecue flavors and an array of seasonings that target the taste buds of gourmet grill enthusiasts. Specifically sauces with a hint of orange, lemon or lime are gaining in popularity. So are full-bodied seasonings that cater to different areas of the palate, said Biff Toth, meat manager

Retailers are spicing up their shelves for the summer grilling season with sophisticated marinade blends, unusual barbecue flavors and an array of seasonings that target the taste buds of gourmet grill enthusiasts.

Specifically sauces with a hint of orange, lemon or lime are gaining in popularity. So are full-bodied seasonings that cater to different areas of the palate, said Biff Toth, meat manager for Highland Park Market, Glastonbury, Conn.

“At the foundation of all cooking are the four senses of the palate — salty, sweet, acidic and heat — and the best marinades and seasons incorporate all four,” Toth told SN. “We make a brown sugar and chili-based dry rub for baby back ribs that has all of these flavors, and we also have a bold barbecue sauce that is balanced with a touch of citrus.”

The retailer also sells a custom-made orange raspberry chicken marinade, teriyaki bourbon glaze, a standard Italian infusion and honey mustard with fresh basil, made for pork chops and pork tenderloins. The dry rubs are priced at $4.99 per pound and marinades at $6.99 per pound. Both are sold at its meat counters.

“People are also buying cedar and hickory grilling planks, and the brands we stock in our seafood department come packaged with a mixture of seasoned salts and herbs that go well with a wide variety of fish and seafood,” said Toth. “Another hot item in our stores is Montreal steak seasoning, because people today want the great taste they get from blends of flavors but they don't want to have to mix them themselves.”

Hot and spicy concoctions inspired by ethnic cuisine are also selling well in supermarkets, said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill. “Ethnic flavors from Asia and Mexico are very popular right now. People are also interested in hot and spicy flavors, many of which are derived from ethnic foods.”

Dollar sales of Oriental sauces increased 3.4% to $167.0 million, and Mexican sauce sales were up 2.3% to $915.6 million, during the 52 weeks ending Feb. 24, 2007, according to ACNielsen's Strategic Planner. Sales of Tabasco/pepper sauce also jumped 6.3% to $65.3 million during the same time period.

McCormick & Co., Sparks, Md., just introduced Chai Spice Blend and Far East Sesame Ginger Blend. Both can be used to season meat and seafood. Chai Spice combines cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and pepper for a sweet, warm taste with a touch of heat. The company's Far East Blend is a mélange of ginger, black and white sesame seeds, garlic, red pepper, orange and coconut.

“Another flavor that continues to be popular with consumers is chipotle chili pepper — they like the smoky flavor with a kick,” said Laurie Harrsen, spokeswoman for McCormick. “We also have a range of new products for grilling that address several key trends, including citrus and spicy combinations, low-sodium offerings, increased seafood consumption, the demand for more convenient brush-on sauces and the popularity of rubs.”

Sales of dry seasonings were up 4.3% to $946.0 million for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 24, 2007, according to ACNielsen.

Among McCormick's newest dry spice introductions are Grill Mates Cinnamon Chipotle Rub, Grill Mates Seafood Rub and Old Bay Rub. For consumers watching their salt intake, the company has created Grill Mates 25% Less Sodium Seasonings in Montreal Steak and Montreal Chicken flavors, as well as 25% Less Sodium Montreal Steak Marinade.

In Publix stores, gourmet barbecue sauces and marinades are catching shoppers' attention, said Maria Brous, spokeswoman for the chain.

New products in the category include Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Chipotle, Jack Daniels Steakhouse and Bulls Eye Brewer Best, made with Guinness beer. The retailer is awaiting the launch of Balsamic Roasted Onion marinade by Ken's Steakhouse and a new marinade flavor from Newman's Own.

“One important health trend for our consumers is lower-sodium diets,” she said. “Brands such as Mrs. Dash Marinades meet the needs of consumers seeking low- or no-sodium items. This brand is doing well and has recently introduced a Teriyaki flavor.”

A new sub-segment that Publix expects to grow is grilling sprays, added Brous. Publix currently carries Remington's grill sprays, which are packaged in bottles with squeeze trigger nozzles. Remington's sprays come in American Hickory, Texas Mesquite, Spicy Garlic and Island Pineapple flavors.

“These grilling sprays are versatile, as they can be used as sprays or even as a marinade or table sauce,” said Brous. “They are traditionally more expensive than a typical marinade, but on a per use basis, they are more economical and allow the consumer to add flavor directly to their meat or vegetables as they are grilling.”

Several times each month, Publix promotes an assortment of sauces, marinades and condiments in its circulars. The chain also cross-promotes these items during larger grilling events such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, with charcoal, paper products, soft drinks and housewares, said Brous.

Sweetbay Supermarket, Tampa, Fla., has focused on dry rubs in its stores. Many of its locations have added 4-foot sections to accommodate the new rubs that have been introduced over the past few years, said Randy Deschaine, grocery director for the 79-store chain.

“Consumers are exploring new tastes, but they have less time, and rubs offer them great taste instantly,” he said.

Sweetbay cross-merchandises spices and marinades in its meat departments, using shippers, and the chain encourages its meat employees to hand out free samples of new products.

Loblaw, Brampton, Ontario, has its own line of President's Choice (PC) spices, marinades and sauces, including several new flavors that launched in conjunction with the chain's 2007 Summer Insiders program.

“This year, we introduced PC Habañero Spicy Tequila BBQ Sauce, made with two types of lime juice, 80 proof tequila and a blend of seven peppers, including habañero and poblano,” said Sheri Helman, spokeswoman for Loblaw. “We'll also introduce PC Five-Spice Teriyaki Marinade, which is made with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, black and white sesame seeds and Chinese five-spice powder.”

The retailer will also begin merchandising a new PC Montreal Chicken spice in time for the grilling season.

“Consumers are looking for quick but flavorful meal solutions that require minimal preparation and cleanup,” said Helman. “Barbecuing encompasses all of these demands and results in an easy family solution.”

According to Helman, the chain's new products, along with last year's launches, represent “the consumer's desire to have both something old and something new in their flavor profile.”

Because spices, rubs, marinades and sauces are low-ticket items that are simple to make, it's very easy for stores, restaurants and individuals to create their own products, said Wisner. “The idea of ‘mine is better than yours’ has inspired supermarkets to launch their own private labels in a lot of categories, enabling retailers to differentiate themselves, make their stores more interesting to shop and generate additional sales,” he said.

Highland Park Market has capitalized on this concept. “The whole reason for making our own rubs and marinades,” said Toth, “is to offer something different that consumers can't get anywhere else.”

Publix created a private-label organic line to offer its shoppers something unique, including its first organic condiment. “We recently introduced our Publix GreenWise Ketchup,” said Brous.

Publix also carries more than 20 standard dry spice varieties, including oregano, bay leaves and nutmeg, as well as vanilla, lemon and almond extracts, and several Hispanic seasonings such as Adobo with pepper, Adobo without pepper, a complete Hispanic seasoning blend and ground cumin.

Demand for unique sauces, marinades and seasonings is so high at Fresh Encounter, Findlay, Ohio, that locally made products sell better than national brands, said Eric Anderson, vice president of marketing. “A prime example is hot sauce,” said Anderson. “Each of our stores has its own locally made version of Tony's hot sauce in their markets, and they outsell the national brands.”

Fresh Encounter cross-merchandises spices in the meat department, particularly during grilling season.

“The outdoor cooking season is anxiously awaited in our part of the country due to the long winters,” said Anderson. “We encourage our stores, through a summer display contest, to merchandise cooking accessories, spices and other items throughout the meat department and at the front of the store.”