KANSAS CITY - The shift from eating out in restaurants to having most eating occasions in the home among US consumers has had a special advantage for the dips and spreads category, noted Greg Klein, chief marketing officer for Delphos, Ohio-based Lakeview Farms, the maker of eight popular dip and spread brands.

As the pandemic has unfolded, Lakeview Farms has been seeing heightened success in its salsas and specialty spreads like the Salads of the Sea brand — products similar to what consumers are missing out on from not being able to order as many of their restaurant-favorite appetizers — Klein said.

“We’re seeing more of the little indulgences at home that consumers were used to getting outside of the house,” he said. “Maybe it’s their favorite Mexican restaurant and they can’t get their salsa, so they’re looking for new salsas to use at home. Protein-based products, seafood especially, have been strong because people are creating meals, and having more usage occasions. They’re looking to make up for that restaurant experience”

One of Lakeview Farms’ newest dips, it’s Rojo’s-brand Street Corn Dip, has been doing very well amid the pandemic, Klein pointed out. The dip is a combination of roasted corn with cream cheese, sour cream and a blend of peppers, onions and spices. Street Corn dips and salsa are becoming more popular on restaurant menus, and the version of the dip from Rojo’s fits in well with that concept.

Consumers seek clean label dips and spreads

As shoppers eat more meals and snacks at home, they’re increasingly looking for better-for-you options. That was a trend that was increasing before the pandemic, too—a report from SPINS noted that in 2018 the conventional snacking market declined 2% while fresh snacks rose by 6%—but consumers have a renewed interest in healthier options as they are trying to lose weight picked up during quarantine down time.

“As snacking frequency continues to grow, consumers are becoming more conscious of how they’re snacking,” said Mandy Bottomlee, director of content marketing for Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based Good Foods. “Consumers are favoring clean ingredients, clean labels, free from choices.”

Good Foods makes a variety of dips, guacamoles and dressings that are clean-label, non-GMO and gluten-free. Select products are also vegan and dairy free.

When it comes to flavors, Bottomlee noted that classics remain king. Currently, French onion, ranch and avocado are driving the category, she said. The company’s top selling products include Chunky Guacamole, Avocado Mash, Queso and Buffalo-Style Dip.

“People are eating many more meals at home and cooking more in general,” Bottomlee said. “From what we can see, consumers are finding balance between the indulgent and comforting dairy dips and the healthier options such as plant-based dips.”

Brittany Requejo, marketing manager for Newton, Wis.-based Pine River, noted that the cheese spread company has also seen an increased interest in clean and fresh eating driving the popularity of dips and spreads.

Pine River’s line of Clean Label Cold Pack Cheese Spreads are crafted without preservatives, artificial flavors, artificial colors, or added hormones and are cold pressure treated for safety, allowing an extended shelf life of 330 days. The spreads are available in Port Wine, Sharp Cheddar, Garlic & Herb, Hot Habanero and Spicy Beer flavors with an SRP of $4.25.

“Our clean label spread has been gaining popularity over the last few years,” Requejo said. “It was something people were asking for at trade shows, so people are looking for things that are good for your body and that you can eat with fruits and veggies.”

Over the summer months Lakeview Farms debuted its Fresh Provisions brand, a line of plant-based dips that include French onion, ranch, dill pickle, chocolate and caramel flavors, as well as fresh-cut salsa, Klein said.

Creative pairings and cross-merchandising

With many US consumers showing increased interest in preparing their own meals and snacks, Requejo said that Pine River is trying to encourage consumers to think outside of the box when teaming up their cheese spreads with other food items.

While crackers, breads and pretzels are a classic pair with cheese spreads, Pine River is encouraging shoppers to also think of the cheese spreads as a potential recipe ingredient such as drizzling the company’s sharp cheddar cheese spread over broccoli. With over 30 variations of spreads between Pine River’s cold packs, clean-label cold packs and snack spreads, there are plenty of ways customers can incorporate the spreads into eating occasions throughout the day.

“We’re really trying to broaden people’s opinions on using our cheese spreads in recipes of all kinds,” Requejo said. “Our cold pack starts with 40-pound blocks of grade-A Wisconsin cheddar, and is then ground together with other dairy ingredients without the use of heat, so it’s a different form of a natural cut of cheddar. We encourage people to put it on their eggs, put it in their meatballs, drizzle it on fish, there’s a lot of possibilities.”

She suggested that retailers think about cross-merchandising their dips and spreads with ingredients that make up a recipe, which could be especially helpful in the absence of offering instore samples due to the pandemic. For example, recipe cards for mac & cheese could be placed on a display along with the cheese spread, noodles and other ingredients needed for the recipe so everything’s all in one place.

Requejo pointed out that the less customers have to think about finding all of the ingredients, the better. Shoppers want easy meal and snack solutions. She also suggested that grocers incorporate holidays and special events into their displays, because special occasions can often be the reason a shopper makes a trip to the store.

Bottomlee of Good Foods added that it’s not that uncommon for customers to use their dips and spreads for pairings other than crackers, chips or veggies. Good Foods products can also be used to make sauces for meals, which adds lots of flavor and saves customers the time of making a sauce from scratch.

The company has digital coupons, shopper and social campaigns, and cross-brand promotions that the company can help retailers use to drive sales of their products. Like Requajo, Bottomlee also suggested showing customers unique ways to use the products either with recipe cards or even online video demonstrations.

Lakeview’s Klein suggested finding places outside of the instore deli to promote dips and spreads, such as the beer aisle, the produce department or the chip aisle.

“One of our best examples of cross-merchandising is what we do with our Rojo’s-brand salsas in the chip aisle,” he said. “We’ll actually put up signage in the chip aisle telling people to try Rojo’s salsa in the deli department, and we have a call-out in deli department telling people to try the salsa with the chips.”

This story was featured in the November issue of Supermarket Perimeter. Click here for the full issue.