McCormick aims for ethnic edge

New: Spice maker adds 22 items to its line in the hopes of tapping into the popularity of foreign cuisines.

May 17, 2001|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

If you're shopping for ingredients to make a creamy mashed potato casserole, McCormick & Co.'s spices have you covered.

If you're trying to make sliced raw tuna with wasabi-yuzu, maybe not.

The world's largest spice maker is already the one to beat when it comes to staples like rosemary and oregano. But this fall, its gourmet spice line also will take on the growing popularity of ethnic foods with 14 new spices and blends with offerings like Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, Chipotle Chile Pepper, Wasabi Powder and Garam Masala.

It's the first time in six years that the Sparks-based company has added products to its gourmet line.

"Ethnic and specialty foods are probably one of the hottest trends right now in supermarkets, and the more exotic the better," said Todd Hultquist of the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group that represents grocery stores. "Ten years ago Mexican and Chinese and Italian were considered ethnic. Now it's Thai foods, Japanese, Southeast Asia and Middle Eastern stuff that's really popular."

McCormick studied buying trends and market data and talked with more than 3,000 consumers before settling on the new products.

The rollout, expected to start in September, will be supported by advertisements in cooking and women's magazines and with a mass mailing of recipe booklets to 10 million households.

"This is pretty significant; it's one of the main objectives for the year for the U.S. consumer product division," said Laurie Harrsen, director of consumer affairs at McCormick. She declined to say what kind of sales bump the company is expecting from the new items.

The spice maker has three divisions:

Consumer, which sells items such as spices and liquid seasonings at the retail level.

Industrial, which provides spices and flavorings for restaurants and for products like the special sauce on Big Macs and the coatings on Doritos.

And packaging, which makes bottles and tubes for the food and personal-care industries.

"I'm happy they're innovating and I'm happy they have new products out there," said Mitchell B. Pinheiro, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC who hasn't seen the items yet. "If you're not innovating and if you don't have new products, you're dead."

Along with the new ethnic flavors, McCormick also is introducing eight organic spices. And the entire gourmet line, which comes in glass bottles with green caps instead of McCormick's regular red-capped plastic bottles, will get new packaging. It's the first makeover for the items in 15 years.

Analyst R. Bentley Offutt of Offutt Securities in Hunt Valley said that McCormick is "going in the right direction" with the new items.

"I think McCormick can differentiate itself from its competition by the fact that they are a global leader in spices and seasonings," he said. "They've acquired companies in Mexico and Europe that are leaders there and who know the taste buds of the countries better than anybody.

"And they are better positioned to do it relative to their competition who are more United States- oriented."

The growing demand for more exotic items in supermarkets is driven in large part by the fact that ethnic restaurants are gaining in popularity and people want to be able to create similar dishes at home, said Paula Lambert, owner of The Mozzarella Co. in Dallas and past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

"Ethnic food in our country is much more readily available than it was before, and consumers are more educated than in the past," she said. "I think it's fabulous that McCormick is doing this because it's creating diversity, introducing people to new things and it's imaginative and creative.

"I'm sure it's also very well researched. I don't think they are going to bomb."

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