george-final-cropEncona Sauces, the UK’s best-selling range of chilli sauces, is bringing fresh excitement to the UK’s table sauces fixtures in 2009 by re-designing its range and extending it with the addition of some tasty new flavours from around the world.

The Encona Sauces line up previously included some non-Caribbean flavours, such as Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce and Cajun Hot Sauce, but consumers and trade alike regarded the range as principally Caribbean sauces. With the new flavours it is now much, much more than that, says the company – it’s a passport to a world of flavours. The new Encona Sauces strap-line ‘Taste Explorers’ highlights the fact that Enco Products, the company behind the brand, has sourced ingredients for the new variants from across the globe. The new brand positioning is set to broaden the brand’s appeal, while retaining the all-important brand loyalists. The new packs will be available to UK multiple grocers initially, prior to a national rollout across all trade channels by June. George Phillips, Commercial Director of Enco Products Ltd, talked to The Grocery Trader.

The Grocery Trader – How big is Enco Products in the UK in annual turnover? How fast is it growing? What proportion of Enco Products’ turnover is Encona Sauces?

Grace Foods, our parent company, turns over approximately £120m in the UK. Enco Products represents in the region of 40% of that turnover and recorded double digit growth in 2008. Encona Sauces accounts for about one third of Enco Products’ turnover and is our second biggest brand behind Nurishment.

GT – Where are you based?

We’re based in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.

GT – Do you make your sauces here in the UK?

Our sauces are bottled in the UK, with ingredients sourced from around the world. We ship ingredients from the Caribbean, Thailand and elsewhere and bottle the products here. Our Original West Indian Hot Pepper Sauce comes in as chilli mash and other ingredients, and the principle is much the same for our other sauces: we bring in virtually finished products and pack them here. It means what’s in the bottle really is Caribbean, Thai or from wherever the country of origin may be, and Grace Foods has no plans to change that.

GT – As Commercial Director of Enco Products, how involved are you personally with development of Encona Sauces?

I’m involved with new products rather more than you’d expect. I’m part of the commercial team and help to originate ideas and look at market opportunities. I don’t do much day-to-day development but make significant input into our NPD. We have a head of marketing and two brand managers, and technical and QA teams who do a lot of functional work and liaise with the Grace Foods factories in the Caribbean. We’re commercially led, but technically driven.

GT – Do you get involved with major customers?

I know 90% of our customers personally. I work closely with our major suppliers and our major and minor customers. We have a parallel development process in Jamaica. I go there three times a year – we take a lot of our consumer dynamics from Jamaica and bring them here, in a fine balance.

all-bottlesGT – Who owns Enco Products?

Our owner is Grace Kennedy, the largest food group in the Caribbean. Grace Kennedy’s business interests split between food and finance. The financial half includes banking, insurance and money remittance from the UK to the Caribbean: the food business covers the Caribbean, North and South America, the UK and Europe.

GT – How does Enco Products fit into their portfolio?

Grace Foods UK is Grace Kennedy’s single largest food subsidiary globally, and Enco Products is the most significant part.  Enco fits in very closely with Grace Kennedy. Our other two companies here are Chadha Oriental Foods, who sell Oriental foods to UK Oriental grocers, wholesalers and foodservice customers, and Funnybones Foodservice Ltd, who supply top-end Tex-Mex products to foodservice customers.

GT – How important is the UK as a market for your sauces? What about the rest of Europe?

Encona Sauces is traditionally a UK brand, and was launched over 30 years ago. Until recently 90% of our business was in the UK, with the rest being exports, but it’s now closer to 85% as we become more active in Europe. We are even re-exporting finished products back to the Caribbean! Grace Kennedy’s approach is to enter new country markets through local distributors and then as the local market grows take a view on strategic acquisitions, as happened here.

GT – How much are your UK sauces adapted for British palates?

Rather than change the products for the UK, our approach is to bring people into the brand by introducing a wider range rather than ‘watering down’ our products. We were the UK’s first significant brand of Caribbean sauces and pioneered a market which we continue to lead. Britain’s palates have become more adventurous recently: Thai sauces are big flavours in the UK, and we have introduced them to the range predominantly for European tastes. First and foremost, we stay loyal to the Caribbean market: we want to bring in new consumers but not lose what we are.

GT – What proportion of the table sauces market do chilli and other spicy sauces represent?

Including ketchup and brown sauces, hot sauces are a relatively small proportion of sauces. Take out ketchup and brown sauce and hot sauces are 30-35% of the category in the multiples, and it is broadly similar in the independents, which tend to overtrade on speciality sauces. Encona has entered the sauces mainstream through the multiples getting involved in ethnic foods, but we are still strong in independents.

GT – How big in value terms is the UK market for these sauces and how fast is it growing?

IRI values the chilli sauce market in multiple grocers at £35m. From our estimates there’s a further third of sales in the independents. The total ‘Table Sauces’ category is growing at approximately 16-18%, with Chilli Sauces and Barbecue Sauces the fastest growing sub-categories. Chilli is showing 15-16% growth and Encona is the current market leader.

GT – What’s driving it?

First, consumer consumption is increasing as mainstream consumers become much more adventurous in all ethnic areas. Second, increased distribution is leading to sales: the multiples aren’t stealing independents’ volume but are growing the market overall, putting these speciality products on the mainstream sauce fixture with other condiments and sauces. Third, there’s more noise generally around Caribbean cookery.

GT – What share of the market do you have?

We’re number one in the UK with approximately 22% volume and 25% value. We prefer to quote volume, as discounting and promotions distorts value figures and gives a false impression.

GT – Which is the biggest selling Encona Sauce?

West Indian Original Hot Pepper Sauce and Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce are the ‘hero’ packs, with 50-60% of our volume sales in any outlet between them, and are the two we seek to position first. Jamaican Jerk BBQ Sauce is growing fastest, and of the new world-oriented products, Thai Chilli and Garlic Sauce has taken off spectacularly.

GT – What size packs do you supply – any plans to produce bigger bottles for big users, like ketchups? Do you offer your sauces in glass bottles and handy, squeezy bottles?

We offer three sizes. Our 142ml classic square glass bottles, found in most of the trade in multiples and independents, allow us to hit the 99p price point. Our 220ml glass bottle is a pack designed for heavier users buying at ethnic fixtures. We also offer our top two sauces, West Indian Original Hot Pepper and Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce as part of our top-down, squeezy 285ml range for the barbecue fixture, a fast growing part of our market.

GT – You’ve recently redesigned the packs for Encona Sauces. What’s changed, and what’s the rationale?

Over the years we’ve kept the pack designs pretty much the same, but when we added the new products we decided to make the range more unified, strengthen our shelf presence, increase our differentiation and improve consumer navigation. The design ties in with our ‘world food’ message, and allows us to go anywhere, for example to include African and other food areas underrepresented by table sauces.

The new ‘Taste Explorers’ concept emphasises the high authenticity and provenance of our sauces: we source them from the actual places. ‘Taste Explorers’ allows us to stay Caribbean–focused while also taking ownership of other regions. The design is much stronger on shelf, simplifies things for consumers and is clearer to understand.

GT – Can consumers see at a glance from the label how hot a particular Encona Sauce is?

Yes, they can. We use a variation of the standard chilli sauce indicator, a diagram of a chilli pepper showing the heat level – hot, medium or mild. For example, West Indian Original Hot Pepper sauce Sauce is hot; Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce is medium and Indian Sweet Mango Chilli Sauce is mild.

GT – Which sauces are in the range? Which ones are new?

Besides West Indian Original Hot Pepper Sauce, Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce and Indian Sweet Mango Chilli Sauce, we also have a traditional Jamaican Jerk BBQ Sauce, which contains a lot of spice and a mild chilli kick. Our Caribbean sub-range is completed with an authentic mustard-based Barbados Creole Pepper Sauce and a fruity West Indian Smooth Papaya Hot Pepper Sauce. We also have sauce flavours inspired by the Americas including a Louisiana Cajun Hot Sauce and a Texan Chilli BBQ Sauce, available as part of our squeezy pack range. The versatility of the range means our sauces work great as table sauces, cooking ingredients, condiments, marinades, dips and dressings.

The three new products are a Thai Chilli and Garlic Sauce, which is made to a traditional ‘Sriracha’ recipe from Thailand, with a medium chilli heat and deliciously garlicky and has received superb consumer feedback so far. Thai Chilli and Ginger Sauce builds on the successful Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce franchise and is made with fresh Asian ginger, and we’re also introducing an American Chilli Ketchup to our squeezy pack range, which is deliberately much milder in chilli heat and our first sauce for families, children and chilli novices, which will broaden the brand appeal.

GT – How do your sauces compare with other hot sauces on the market in richness and texture?

Our West Indian hot pepper sauces have an equal or higher content of chilli mash compared to other sauces: we are at the top end in richness, with contents of over 60% of chilli mash. Competitor sauces often contain such things as vinegar as the first ingredient. In texture, we achieve a good thickness: our sauces come with ‘bits,’ not smooth-milled, which makes them ‘chunkier’ with more of a hand-made feel.

GT – As demand grows for chilli and other spicy sauces we read of some of the mainstream ketchups responding with hot and spicy variants, but they tend to be short-lived. Why do you think that is?

Products targeting children dominate the ketchup market; the vast majority of ketchup usage is under 15’s. Chilli sauces generally aim at adults, that’s why so many ‘grown-up’ varieties of ketchup tend to be short-lived.

GT – How are you promoting the new-look Encona Sauces and the Taste Explorers message in the UK?

Our main aim is to help consumers get to know and understand the new products. We’re doing a lot of in-store sampling and on-line activity. There’s no substitute for getting people to taste the product: sampling is key.

GT – What proportion of Encona Sauces’ UK sales go through the multiple grocery sector? Who does your distribution?

Broadly two thirds of our sales are in multiples. We do our own distribution, and have a warehouse at Welwyn Garden City, serving our customers across the UK and Europe.

GT – Where should Encona Sauces be merchandised in a typical supermarket?

We recommend they should be placed on the sauces fixture in the main customer flow, and also on the ethnic fixture. All the major multiples have world food aisles. We’re dominant players in world foods in the Caribbean sector.

GT – What are the peak usage occasions for your sauces? Do you sell more in the barbecue season, for instance, than at other times?

The hot sauces market is relatively unseasonal. That said there is a measurable increase in summer for barbecues, and we seek secondary distribution on barbecue sections. There is also a peak around Christmas, when people try out new ways of livening up leftovers over the break and have time to experiment.

final-stampGT – What are your views about dual siting Encona Sauces away from the sauces fixture to capitalise on barbecue and other seasonal sales opportunities?

We encourage dual-siting table sauces as a whole. It gives consumers another opportunity to try the product. From a retailer perspective, the store’s barbecue section can be livened up considerably by placing barbecue sauces there.

GT – Presumably the ‘Taste Explorers’ concept means you can go anywhere you want in terms of product development. What other ‘Taste Explorer’ sauces are you planning? You’ve got a Thai sauce. Will you be bringing out a peri-peri sauce?

If there were consumer demand for a peri-peri sauce we’d think about it, but on recent evidence probably not. Some parts of the world are under-represented by table sauces, including Africa, “ethnic” Mexico, areas of the Far East including the Philippines, and South America, which is an especially interesting opportunity for us given the growing Latin American population in the south of England.

straplineGT – Finally, where do you see Encona Sauces going from here?

We’re en route with ‘Taste Explorers’ to make Encona a broader-based brand than at present. There will always be a strong Caribbean side to Encona, but we’ll be bringing in more varieties, opening up new regions and introducing new tastes and exciting NPD in the next couple of years, if not sooner.

Enco Products Ltd.   tel: 01707 326222

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