Sponsored by Ken's Foodservice
For years, baby boomers have dipped fish in tartar sauce, shrimp in cocktail sauce and egg rolls in duck sauce. But millennials and Gen Zers are taking dipping to a whole new level, putting anything and everything into the dipping cup — be it pizza, burgers, chicken, vegetables or fries. In response, companies like Ken’s Foods are expanding their line of products to offer consumers a variety of dipping options that range from classics like ranch to more unique alternative flavors like sweet red chili and beyond.
This dipping trend among young consumers started in restaurants and quickly spread to onsite venues like sports arenas, colleges and universities, and business venues until it was everywhere. But what’s it all about?
Making basic food exciting again
A chicken tender is a chicken tender is a chicken tender. But dip a chicken tender into jalapeño ranch or sriracha sauce and you create a unique flavor experience. Uniqueness is the key. Both millennial and Gen Z generations are heavily characterized by individualism which when it comes to food means they want to be in charge of the experience. They want variety and choice, and dipping sauces fit this demand perfectly.
A variety of dipping sauces also means that a hungry diner can try new flavors without having to order an entire dish. John Stanton, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, says dipping sauces are “A way companies can let people try new flavors, and it’s a way that people can try something and not make a major commitment.”
Beyond chicken tenders
Stanton says the dipping trend started with chicken wings and tenders – but quickly moved beyond. “We’re seeing all sorts of different flavors that people are using on pizza and burgers. You might not want a whole pizza with barbecue sauce on it, so with a dipping sauce you can try a plain pizza with a lot of different flavors.”
He adds, “Using dipping sauces is a way to take traditional food and add a little spunk. Chefs don’t have to come up with whole new preparations. It’s a way for people to engage in testing and trying without a big commitment on either side.”
Global flavors provide tasty choices
By the time Stanton's students get to be seniors, they have traveled outside of the country and been exposed to a variety of global flavors, so they expect to find them in the dining hall as well.
Foodservice management companies hear their preferences loud and clear. Bill Miller, director of product development and menu innovation at Aramark, says the onsite company is focusing on sweet and spicy flavors for menu development. Aramark uses consumer-driven insights to develop menu items for clients. The demand for flavorful sauces extends across their client base, from higher education to business dining to health care.
Miller says sriracha, harissa, gochujang and southwest chipotle are among the most popular flavors.
Yale University in New Haven, Conn., features a Mediterranean-inspired station with a range of sauces. Christian Fischer, senior director of auxiliary operations, catering and the Culinary Support Center, says among the students’ favorite dipping sauces is one made from a mixture of avocado and yogurt. The Mediterranean station also includes more traditional flavors like baba ghanoush.
The flavorful sauce trend in schools is not confined to colleges and universities. At Wyoming Seminary in Pennsylvania students can enjoy sweet and spicy flavors from around the world. The Wyoming foodservice program is operated by Metz Culinary Management, and Paul McMillan, general manager of the high school’s services and regional support chef for Metz, explains that boarding students come from all over the world and are familiar with spicy flavor profiles from their own culture. The two most popular flavors at the Wyoming Seminary are sriracha and chipotle, McMillan says.
Baby boomers can dip too
While the trend is driven by millennials and their younger, college-age counterparts, it turns out that all generations enjoy trying a variety of tasty choices with their proteins or vegetables. Savvy operators in stadiums and sports arenas, as well as business and industry operations, are offering dipping sauces more and more frequently as a way to spice up traditional menu items.
In colleges and universities, dipping sauces are a standard part of a meal plan. However, in a venue where customers pay for the food, operators can use dipping sauces as incremental income, Stanton says. He points out that a small upcharge for extra sauces adds up as incremental revenue over the long term.
Proprietary dipping sauces provide convenience, versatility
Sauce companies are responding to consumers' growing interest in diverse flavor trends in a variety of creative ways — ones that also help reduce labor demands on operators who are not looking to prepare everything in house.
Ken’s Foods is dedicated to making an operator's life easier. In addition to the company’s wide lineup of dressings, sauces, and marinades, it offers a range of dipping sauces designed to help operators take advantage of the trend effortlessly that includes:
- Ken’s Boom Boom Sauce
- Ken’s Jalapeño Ranch
- Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet Red Chili Wing Sauce
- Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory & Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce
And to keep up with the rising trend of on-the-go and take-out dining options, Ken’s Foods also produces the dipping sauces in a variety of sizes, allowing them to meet the specific needs of customers in a wider range of dining situations. With this lineup of dipping flavors and cup sizes, as well as Ken’s already extensive lineup of traditional sauces, dressings, and marinades, the problem posed by bland and boring traditional foods on onsite menus is quickly erased. As Stanton summarizes: “It’s not a complicated concept.” He only sees the dipping trend increasing in the future, as it addresses a fundamental need for individuality and customization.
Yale’s Fischer says, “People really like to customize. They want to play, see different colors. They want to be chefs and create their own dishes.”