Condiments have followed a great premiumization path over the past decade.
Taking French mustard brands for instance, we can see the gap between a player such as Amora who stuck to residual category codes (glass packaging, garish colors, cheap label, on-pack narrative sticking to the bare minimum and insisting on strength) and a pioneering brand like Maille that has managed to harness emerging codes while staying true to its heritage - notably on its special editions such as the Dijon mustard with Chablis white wine from Burgundy region : total change of pack with a sandstone pot, replacement of the aluminum lid with a thick cork, and a beautiful chromatic minimalism giving extra preciousness to the Maille logo and signature.
There is a clear trajectory in the world of condiments (fairly similar to that of icecreams):
Less pop/ gaudy colors. More adult and refined tones/ settings (pure black; eggshell or pale earthy tones)
A guest star ingredient is now the focal point, and the original product (let's stick to mustard as an example) is kept in the background. The star ingredient in question (truffle, strawberry, etc) is magnified by enticing closeups and clear lateral cuts cueing craftsmanship
More connoisseurship: more SKUs to better cater to specific pairings or cooking methods (see l'Atelier du Vinaigre's mustard, best for tinfoil cooking and white sauces)
A strong effort to look handmade, leaving aside cues possibly reminiscent of FMCG: smaller formats, smaller and humbler logos and signatures, new packaging textures such as sandstone taking us back to the olden days
And then comes Savor & Sens. A culinary oddity that I recently came across in a high-end Parisian store. I couldn't figure out what it was, in spite of the huge sign above me saying "vinegars & oils" giving me a clue. The reason I wanted to cover it is that, on the one hand, it goes against all category codes listed above, and yet, in its own polarizing way, it is presenting an interesting follow-up to the trajectory of condiments.
Pack and ritual: a long, see-through and squeezable cylinder. I was 99% sure the product was meant for hair-coloring. It looks generous (volume, see-through), and meant for a usage that can be playful (surprising shape, squeezable), artsy and precise (thin tip to place content flawlessly) at the same time
Content: back to hair-dye, the balsamic cream is taking almost all the visual space on pack as it's see-through. But most importantly, the cream is literally golden and filled with glitter. Very reminiscent of trending items such as artsy nail polish or slime.
Semantics: I am putting this last as this is the order in which I unconsciously made acquaintance with the product and tried to figure it out. The header right beneath the logo is finally giving a clearer direction: "Imaginative culinary aide". Although, yeah. It's still not enough. And then comes the central display for narrative: "Cream" (handwritten) of "Very GOLD white balsamic". Choosing to talk about "balsamic" alone without referring to "vinegar" is interesting in and of itself as, although it doesn't require massive knowledge, it kind of naturally alienates people who are not sufficiently kitchen-savvy.
The full range feels fully counter-current as their line of "culinary aides" are extremely bright, not obviously edible at first sight, and clearly inspired from beauty and makeup brands to visually stand out. Not exactly cueing sophistication or connoisseurship as we currently know them. But attention-grabbing for sure.
Ironically, I feel like it heralds the next step of condiments, and mostly for one reason: it is putting the user in the role of an artist, creator, painter. The color palette is so daring that it is obviously meant for a pretty out-there approach to cuisine. The squeezable bottle and its tip allow to release the cream either in big waves or small touches.
I looked up for other players who'd have embraced a similar approach and barely found any. A local brand from Bushwick (Bushwick Kitchen) did stand out. It felt much more culturally-relevant for me and more contemporary looking (less cluttered, more muted colors, a more adult font).
But while Savor & Sens' line of condiments feels like they were created on acid, they do have the advantage of leaving more room for creativity as they do not impose of a mode of usage to consumers. Looking at Bushwick Kitchen's website, I realized they did lots to position their condiment as an all-rounder (good for drinks, sandwiches, etc.). But in doing so, it is somewhat cornering people's creativity and probably feels more every-day.
All in all, I reckon the category is now solid on its quality credentials and will indeed move towards more creative expression, more versatile usages and higher maneuverability, all of which to make condiments the final touch of a meal that will sublime it, not just taste-wise but also visually.
Freelance Strategist: Brands + People + Culture