Ketchup might not be the most glamorous sauce out there, but it still used to be the most popular sauce until very recently when tomato ketchup was dethroned. People are losing it over what it was that replaced ketchup. Not only do some people hate this other option, others say it’s not even a sauce at all and shouldn’t be eligible to begin with.
What do you think it is that replaced ketchup? Could it be BBQ sauce? Maybe mustard? Some experts are attributing the fall of ketchup to the fact that ketchup has more or less failed to innovate. Sure, you might find a hand-picked blueberry ketchup at an upscale burger restaurant, but for the most part, when you look in the ketchup aisle at the grocery store, it’s all the same sugary redness that’s been there since we were kids and long before.
It’s not for a lack of effort. Ketchup has tried to innovate over the years, remember when they released different colors of ketchup and people absolutely hated it? Maybe instead of making purple, green, and blue ketchup – they could have been coming up with some unique twists on the flavor.
But alas, ketchup’s moment in the sun has faded and it has been outsold by something else recently. That something else might not be what you’re expecting, and that’s mayonnaise. Good old fashioned mayo has done a good job of branching out. From chipotle mayo, to countless other flavors of mayonnaise and aioli and similar sauces, there’s just a lot more going on than you’ll find in the world of ketchup. Not only that, but the beans have been spilled in a recent marketing campaign saying the secret to a perfect grilled cheese sandwich is to use mayonnaise on the outside of the bread when you fry it, instead of butter.
Now for the controversial part…
Debates have been breaking out as to whether or not mayonnaise is even a sauce to begin with. Google’s definition of sauce is “thick liquid served with food, usually savory dishes, to add moistness and flavor.” A quick google search for ‘what is mayonnaise’ turns up the following definition: “a thick, creamy dressing consisting of egg yolks beaten with oil and vinegar and seasoned.”
Based on that, mayo is definitely a type of sauce, although there are obviously many other sauces that aren’t mayo.
This study was done by Kantar Worldpanel, a consumer research organization that looks into trends in the marketplace. Ketchup and Mayo both sell roughly 200 million dollars worth in a year in the UK in particular, with mayo still edging out ketchup 200 million to 192 million. In the UK, they have something called brown sauce, and it’s what is known as BBQ sauce in North America. Since ketchup is like a base for BBQ sauce, it would be interesting to see if adding ketchup and brown sauce together would be enough to take back the crown from mayo or not.
It’s based on how much money is spent on each sauce, and it’s worth pointing out that mayo is generally quite a bit more expensive than ketchup. A jar of mayo is probabally going to cost you at least 2x-3x as much as a bottle of ketchup. This is significant because it could mean that people are still using a lot more ketchup than mayo, they’re just spending more money on the mayo since it’s more expensive.
We’ve looked at the numbers for the UK, but in the USA it’s not even close. In recent years, Americans spend about 2 billion dollars per year on mayo, and about 800 million on ketchup, according to Quartz.
If mayo is the champ, and ketchup is in a distant second place in America, then which sauce comes in at number three? The answer is soy sauce. To put things in perspective, here are some of the top selling condiments (not necessarily the same criteria as a ‘sauce’, since these don’t need to be thick) in America:
“A substance such as salt or ketchup that is used to add flavor to food” is the definition of a condiment.
- Mayonaise – 2 billion
- Ketchup – 800 million
- Soy sauce – 725 million
- BBQ sauce – 620 million
- Mustard – 425 million
That’s the amount of money spent on each of those different types of sauces in America every year. Hot sauce has been getting some real heat lately, too, but it still hasn’t grown big enough to outpace mustard, and until it does, it’ll have to be content with resting outside of the top 5.
If you had to put together your own list of the top 5 sauces and/or condiments, how similar would it look to the above list? Make sure you also mention where you’re from, since sauce usage is going to vary significantly between regions. It’s also worth pointing out that salsa isn’t included in the table above, as it had been classified as a “dip” rather than a condiment, but that seems kind of iffy since you can definitely put salsa on things as a condiment.