Quality sauce makers Tiptree and Stokes bucking trend of falling sales in brown sauce and ketchup

Stokes Sauces founder Rick Sheepshanks

Stokes Sauces founder Rick Sheepshanks - Credit: Archant

Quality sauce makers in East Anglia are bucking a national trend of declining sales in brown sauce and tomato ketchup.

A study by market research firm Mintel found sales of table top favourites brown sauce, tomato sauce and mayonnaise are falling,

But Wilkin & Sons at Tiptree, which makes brown sauce and tomato sauce, and Stokes Sauces in Rendlesham, which makes brown sauce, tomato sauce and mayonnaise, say sales of their products are rising.

Nationally, brown sauce sales have declined from £47million in 2013 to £39m in 2014 - a 17% fall, says Mintel. Volumes have also dropped over the same period from 16m kg to 13m kg - or 19%.

Tomato sauce saw a 3% downturn in sales from £178m to £173m, while volumes reduced by almost 6% - down from 73m kg to 69m kg.

Overall, table sauces suffered a 5% volume decline in 2014, driven by the thick sauces segment which was dragged down by tomato ketchup. Mayonnaise also struggled during the year - volume sales fell from 47m kg to 46m kg - a 2% decline. Sales of all table sauces have declined 5% from £229m to £218m. But other thick sauces are in growth, the Mintel study found, suggesting consumers may be turning to other sauces, such as barbecue and exotic table sauces.

Senior food analyst Richard Ford said: “Value and volume declines of tomato ketchup and brown sauce reflect changing eating habits, something that is not easily ‘fixed’. The most common reason for less frequent users to forgo table sauces is that their typical meals do not require these. This creates a challenge particularly for traditional sauces, as more than one in four users limit usage of such sauces to products they are traditionally paired with.”

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But despite the overall downturn recorded in the study, Essex-based Wilkin & Sons, which makes Tiptree Brown Sauce, says its sales of the product have been stable for the last five years and in 2014 soared by 15%. Its tomato ketchup 310g product also rose by 10%.

Ian Thurgood, joint managing director at Wilkin & Sons Limited, based at Tiptree in Essex, said: “We can think of two factors related to any apparent demise of brown sauce: firstly, the data on which the conclusion was based might relate only to major retail stores. We are certain the shopper is switching to premium brands and alternatives and these are more readily found in specialist stores such as farm shops and delis.

“Moreover, shopper interest in provenance features strongly in the purchasing decision. For example, we are often asked where our products are made. In common with Tiptree preserves all our savoury products, brown sauce and tomato ketchup included, are made right here in Tiptree by experienced staff using high-quality ingredients.”

Meanwhile, Stokes Sauces said despite the reported decline in sales of condiments, it had seen a 14% rise in brown sauce sales, 18% increase in tomato ketchup sale and a 27% boost to its mayonnaise sales, year on year.

“Brown Sauce is also Stokes’ second best selling product online, proving that it still very much has a place as a cupboard essential and a mealtime favourite of many,” it said. “We have found consumers to be showing a preference in British products, particularly quality alternatives to traditional favourites. Stokes Sauces are renowned for being a dedicated British producer of real food sauces, using only the very best quality ingredients. Whether it be the date puree and black treacle in our Brown Sauce, or 200g of real Italian tomatoes in our tomato ketchup, there really is no skimping or cutting corners, which we believe is key to our success.

Founder Rick Sheepshanks said the firm’s sales were growing not just in the UK, but also abroad, with a 25% increase in exports.

“In today’s increasingly competitive world, where even major brands are tempted to go for mediocrity, we at Stokes strive to adhere to our credo of quality and it is always our aim to make the best tasting sauce you can buy in a jar. To that end, it would be foolish of us to either cheapen or reduce our ingredients or do anything that would compromise the quality of our products,” he said. “It seems to be working, as sales of our leading lines are increasing, namely Tomato Ketchup, Real Mayonnaise and Brown Sauce, which would suggest we are taking market share from the leading brands.”