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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Gourmet condiments: a "natural" fit?

What’s the difference between a gourmet condiment and a natural one? In terms of quality of ingredients, not much. In terms of flavor profile, a lot. From Crazy Uncle Jester’s Afterburner Sauce, a habenero hot-fudge concoction that adds an extreme kick to deserts, to products offered by The Gracious Gourmet, including a fennel blood-orange tapenade and a balsamic four-onion spread, gourmet lines provide options that many natural lines can’t match. With more shoppers looking to create restaurant flavors in their home kitchens, it’s the perfect time to expand your store’s condiment offerings.

Quality of ingredients
“We try to use as clean a manufacturing process and ingredients sources as mom would in her home,” says Jeffrey “Black Bull” Stevenson, founder of Crazy Uncle Jester’s Inferno World, based in Dayton, Ohio, and a member of the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band, Ohio’s only recognized tribal group. “We control the manufacturing of our hot sauces from the sourcing of ingredients to the time they leave our dock.”

Traceability is often a hallmark of gourmet products. Manufacturers believe that transparency has benefits for both quality and food safety. “Traceability also ensures each product is an authentic expression of its region of origin,” says Mary Caldwell, marketing director for Food Match, a New York City-based manufacturer and importer of specialty Mediterranean foods, including the brands Divina, Barnier, Dalmatia and Olivista.

Origin labeling
Many European nations rely on official European Union standards, such as Protected Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication, as a means of ensuring product quality and authenticity. The Greek Kalamata olives used by Foodmatch in its tapenades, for example, are protected by a PGI. “This confirms that the olives were grown in the appropriate region and reflect the chartacteristics and integrity of that region,” Caldwell says.

Some U.S.-made products carry similar designations. California olive oil—the robust, fruity, extra-virgin oil used for dipping—may carry the seal of the California Olive Oil Council, which requires three chemical tests and a human taste test.

“There’s a lot of olive oil–labeling fraud in the U.S.,” says Steven Dambeck, founder of Apollo Olive Oil in Oregon House, Calif. “The seal is the best guarantee that you’re buying real extra-virgin, which is processed within four hours of picking for highest quality.” (For more on origin labeling. see “The Right Place”)

Marketing angles

Gourmet tapenades, chutneys and spreads often have unique flavor profiles and may require customer education. “These products need to be showcased,” says Nancy Wekselbaum, founder of The Gracious Gourmet, based in Bridgewater, Conn. “They make it easy for customers to entertain at home, but they don’t belong next to ketchup and mayo. These are sophisticated formulations.”

Tastings, recipes and feature displays may be required to launch these new products in-store, but the investment can lead to high-margin success for retailers.

Mitchell Clute is a freelance writer and fan of fantastic flavors living in Ft. Collins, Colo.

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