'Real' mayonnaise hinges on two key ingredients - oil and eggs - but over the last year prices for both of these raw materials have risen sharply.
"Rape seed oil prices have shot up by more than 25 per cent in the past 24 months," Jeremy Faulkner, managing director of UK mayonnaise manufacturer Cremanaze tells FoodNavigator.com.
But egg yolk prices have seen an even bigger leap on the back of the recent outbreak of avian flu in Asia that severely impacted the global poultry industry.
"It's a supply and demand issue affected by the decimation of millions of birds," said Faulkner. In the last 12 months the company, operating in the £70-£90 million UK mayo market, has seen a 20-30 per cent rise in liquid egg prices, but according to Faulkner stability is in sight with prices starting to level out.
Yolk products - usually mixed with salt or sugar to increase the shelf life - are used principally in mayonnaise, sauces and ice cream. The British Egg Information Service estimates that total production in the UK is around 8,800 tonnes per annum with a current value in the region of £16.3 million. "With mayonnaise becoming an all year round product, demand for egg yolk is growing," the service told FoodNavigator.com, estimating current growth at 3-4 per cent annually.
"The volatility of the European egg market over the past year or so has led to huge fluctuations in egg product prices. As a guide, yolk prices rose from about £1700/tonne last summer to £2250 in the last quarter of 2003 and are around £1850 now," they added. On the back of the price hikes for egg yolks Cargill-owned starch and derivatives firm Cerestar has seen a boost in sales for its emulsifying starches.
"Customer interest has been further heightened since egg yolk prices began to rise a year ago, and more price rises are expected, so the starches solution is becoming even more attractive as a cost-saving route," said Mark Wastijn, of Cerestar Food & Pharma Specialties Europe, quoting the firm's C*EmTex 12688 for cold processed mayonnaise and C*EmTex 06369 for hot processing.
In Europe there are currently no legal obligations regarding the recipe for 'real' mayonnaise however guidelines issued in September 1991 by the Federation of the Condiment Sauce Industries recommend that oil and liquid egg yolk levels in mayonnaise should hit 70 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. According to Faulkner, the majority of manufacturers are more generous in their doses.
"Mayonnaises in the UK have well over the 70 per cent mark for oil and an egg yolk content of 7-8 per cent."
The market for condiments, such as mayonnaise, has seen strong growth in recent years in Europe as the modern consumer turns increasingly to convenient sauces and dressings to enhance their food. Indeed a recent report from Leatherhead pitched the 'other sauces' category, with a volume share of 29 per cent, as the largest single segment of the European sauces and dressings market in 2000.
Key trends influencing the segment include a continued drive towards convenience in eating and cooking patterns, increased interest in ethnic foods, and ongoing health concerns, leading to greater demand for low-fat/low-calorie and natural products.
"Products are becoming fresher," confirmed Faulkner, adding that manufacturers are diversifying away from the long-life mayonnaises in direct response to consumer demand for natural foods.
"A new 'natural' trend - spearheaded by UK retailer Marks & Spencer - sees mayo makers increasingly using free range eggs," said Faulkner.
Overall, more than a million tonnes of sauces and dressings together topping the €3 billion mark are sold in the five major markets Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain - each year.