There is a major shake-up going on in Britain’s seasonings market, according to new research, with salt sales slowing down and sales of pepper and fresh herbs increasing.

Over the past few years, salt sales haven fallen from £23m (US$40.7m) in 2000 to an estimated £20m this year – a decline of some 13%, according to the research by Mintel. Meanwhile, sales of fresh herbs look set to more than double (124%) and pepper sales are expected to increase by as much as 55%.

Dropping volume sales are mainly to blame, at an estimated 12% decline between 2003 and 2005, in light of healthy eating guidelines proposed by the government and the Food Standards Agency. Table and cooking salt have been the main casualties, losing 15% and 17% of volume sales respectively over this two-year period. Meanwhile, sea/rock salt and low sodium alternatives have increased, but between them they account for just 20% of the total salt market and so their success has done only little to halt the decline.

“Previously static sales of salt have been in gradual decline over recent years, largely affected by negative press highlighting the link between high salt consumption and heart disease and high blood pressure. Many consumers have been advised to cut salt intake and look to other means of flavouring food, maybe choosing pepper and herbs over salt,” said James McCoy, senior consumer analyst at Mintel.

Over the past few years the pepper sector has seen a healthy 5% year-on-year growth following a particularly buoyant year in 2001 (30% growth) due to high commodity prices. Indeed, in 2005 the market is set to be worth as much as £31m, a third more than sluggish salt sales. What is more, volume is said to be increasing even faster, with market growth mainly being driven by sales of premium products, such as coarse and whole peppercorns.

A fresh look at the seasonings market shows that it is fresh herbs that have seen the most impressive growth in recent years.  Back in 2000 sales of fresh herbs were worth just £17m, accounting for the fourth largest share of the UK seasonings market. At this time dried herbs, seasonings and spices accounted for the largest market share, with salt in second place and pepper in third.

Although dried herbs, seasonings and spices still account for the greatest portion of the market (41%), fresh herbs now make up the second largest share, with nearly a quarter (22%) of market value in 2005. Indeed, between 2000 and 2005 sales of fresh herbs shot up by a tasty 124% to reach some £38m. Pepper now stands in third place with just under a fifth (18%) of the market, while salt sales have plummeted to fourth place with just 13% and the remaining 12% of the market is made up of curry powder.

“Fresh herbs continue to perform well, more than doubling sales over the last five years due to an explosion of interest and high profile campaigns in 2001 and 2002.  Growth in the seasonings market as a whole continues to be driven by evolving culinary habits in British kitchens, as sustained interest in celebrity chefs, foreign travel and eating out have provoked a change in UK diets,” said McCoy.