Like many other categories, dips and spreads seem to be taking off in two directions: healthy and indulgent. Consumers are looking for better-for-you options while hanging on to the option of occasionally treating themselves.

“The category seems to be falling more clearly into a cleaner/healthier/fresher segment and an indulgent segment,” says Nathan Roe, category manager for Reser’s Fine Foods.

Part of that indulgence is due to consumers entertaining guests and the rise of appetizers. “Entertaining is still important to consumers and we’ve seen an interesting rise in the idea of family entertainment around food,” Roe says. “Appetizers before family meals were once rare, even when everyone ate together. Now, with sit-down meals often limited to one or two days a week, the role of the appetizer — where dips and spreads are most versatile — has become another part of an extended family meal time.”

As part of everyday eating, consumers are looking toward the healthier end of the spectrum for their vegetable dips and other spreads. Not only does that include lighter options, but also clean labels and natural ingredients.

“But I still feel like consumers are unwilling to sacrifice taste,” Roe says. “Within these categories, I think there is a continuum of where consumers expect to see cleaner and healthier items. At one end are salsa and hummus, and at the other end is probably something like baked Brie or a spinach-parmesan dip.

Reser’s is making its top-selling Stonemill Kitchens dips more appealing to these consumers by using 100 percent real dairy ingredients, such as sour cream, cream cheese, parmesan and cheddar cheeses. The company has also removed artificial colors and flavors despite the fact that there were few to begin with.

Has hummus peaked?

If you would have asked Roe a year or two ago what was driving the world of dips and spreads, he would have answered — probably quite enthusiastically — hummus.

Now? Well, maybe not so much.

“The hummus innovations may already have happened with flavor, packaging, and promotions,” Roe says. “We’ve seen SKU consolidation and think that hummus is coming off its peak.”

According to Israeli news outlet Haaertz and market research firm Storenext, sales of prepared salads — a category that is dominated by hummus — have dropped by double-digits in 2016 in Israel, a country that once devoured the creamy chickpea spread.

One reason for the decline is that hummus is no longer a new, exciting food in the Middle East, where it stands alongside cottage cheese. Americans, on the other hand, only appear to have recently discovered the spread. Thus, sales haven’t seen a huge dip, but the hype of 2014 may be drawing to a close, or at least starting to
slow down.

That said, it’s not like hummus is going away. In fact, some say there is still room for it to grow, especially with variations. And a quick look at some statistics shows hummus is still a giant in the industry.

“Hummus is breaking out,” says Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director for research firm Canadean. “Everthing from dessert hummus to pourable hummus, hummus is showing signs that it could be the next Greek yogurt-like breakout food.”

Multiple companies are now offering the pourable hummus, which can be used as a dip or as spreads for sandwiches, the way one would use mayonnaise or mustard. On average, Vierhile says, hummus spreads contain around 75 percent less fat than leading mayonnaise brands.

The Perfect Pita introduced its Hummus in a Bottle at IDDBA 2016 this summer. It will soon be offering all of its hummus flavors in traditional condiment bottles for easy application.

Delighted By, an Arizona Company, is pushing its new line of dessert hummus. The sweet spreads contain the usual base of garbanzo beans, but includes a number of outside-the-box ingredients. Most of the variations — there are four flavors, including Snickerdoodle, Brownie Batter and Orange Ginger — contain coconut milk and organic turbinado sugar. They are all vegan, gluten-free and all-natural.

Retailers can also take advantage of the looming heat trend. Consumers — particularly younger shoppers — tend to gravitate toward spicier foods. As mentioned in last month’s issue of instore, Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and expert on the palate of American eaters, is bullish on heat and spice. He suggests that we’re just getting started turning up the heat level of the American diet.

That means products like Eat Well Embrace Life’s Extra Spicy Three Pepper Hummus could be big wins for retailers. The heat-filled hummus contains jalapeño, chipotle and cayenne peppers.  The company also offers Spicy Red Lentil Chipotle Hummus, Zesty Sriracha Carrot Hummus and Wasabi Edamame Hummus.

Surprising success?

Outside of the trending categories and hummus, some dips and spreads have experienced recent success that may not have been expected.

Reser’s, for example, says its classic French and Ranch dips are performing surprisingly well, buoyed by a loyal customer base. Those consumers not only like the taste of the long-standing dips, but they appreciate the price and already know where they can buy them.

In addition, Roe says pimento cheese spreads have seen a recent spike in sales.

“We’ve been seling varieties of pimento spreads for years, and we’ve recently seen an unexpected uptick in pimento cheese’s presence on menus and other foodservice outlets,” he says. “I think you’ll see a lot more pimento cheese, particularly in the higher-quality range, without the artificial tang that’s become so prevalent.”