Hot Sauce Heats Up!!

Srirachi factory. Photo by Serena Grace

CHICAGO – Way more consumers like it hot says a foodservice researcher. Hot sauce, the hotness of which is often ranked by quantity of flames or symbols of hell, is well… hot right now.

So much so that hot sauce is spreading to levels of ubiquity in homes and foodservice outlets.

Fifty-six percent of households have hot sauce on hand in their kitchens, and Sriracha, a relatively new Asian hot sauce, is already stocked in 9 percent of total U.S. households and 16 percent of households headed by someone under age 35, according to foodservice researcher The NPD Group and its recently released audit of U.S. kitchens. The popularity of hot sauce also extends to away-from-home dining experiences. Cases of hot sauce shipped from foodservice distributors to restaurants and other foodservice outlets increased by double-digits over the past two years.

Classic Louisiana-style hot sauce is still the leader in terms of case volume shipped from distributors to U.S. foodservice outlets, but shipment growth has tapered off because of the wide variety of hot sauces now available, finds NPD. Case shipments of some habanero hot sauce flavors, particularly habanero with fruit flavors like mango, grew triple-digits in the year ending December 2014 compared to the same period a year ago. There were double the cases shipped of Chipotle hot sauce flavors and Srircha in 2014 than in the previous year, finds NPD's SupplyTrack, a monthly tracking service that tracks every product shipped from major broadline distributors to their foodservice operators.

Females ages 18 to 44 and 55 to 64 and males ages 18 to 54 and 65 plus eat more than the average amount of hot sauce over the course of a year, according to NPD's national eating trends research. Females, ages 45 to 54 and 65 plus, eat less than the average amount. Males, ages 55 to 64, eat an average amount. Dual-income, no-kids households, commonly referred to as DINKS, eat more hot sauce than any other household lifecycle. Consumers in the south eat more hot sauce than any other region of the country, but those in the central and western U.S. also eat an above-average amount. Eating less than the average amount of hot sauce are consumers in the east.

There is a scientific explanation as to why consumers are willing to subject themselves to the burning sensation on their tongue and watery eyes that eating hot sauce often causes. The burning sensation is caused by capsaicin, a natural chemical that sends a burning sensation from the nerve endings in the mouth to the brain. The body defends itself against the pain sensation by secreting endorphins, natural painkillers that cause a physical rush, which is similar to a runner's high.

"Hot sauce is clearly part of the diet of many U.S. consumers, and it's a food that crosses gender, age, ethnicity, and income," says Annie Roberts, vice president of NPD's SupplyTrack. "Hot or pepper sauce is a large seasoning category, and for foodservice manufacturers and operators it's about understanding the category's share, where the category is growing and where it isn't, and from which other categories it's stealing share."

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