On the sauce: Austrian 'all natural' ketchup brand Curtice Brothers finding favour in Asia's rapidly-growing condiments sector

By Audrey Yow

- Last updated on GMT

The bestselling Curtice Brothers sauces are the classic tomato ketchup, chili ketchup, BBQ sauce, and organic mayonnaise. © Curtice Brothers
The bestselling Curtice Brothers sauces are the classic tomato ketchup, chili ketchup, BBQ sauce, and organic mayonnaise. © Curtice Brothers

Related tags Sauces condiments China Japan Ketchup

Austrian ketchup brand Curtice Brothers says a focus on natural ingredients, heritage and sustainability is helping it compete with local and international condiment giants in Asia, with the firm seeing success in China, Singapore and Japan.

Specialising in tomato ketchups and other sauces that are fully organic and natural, the Austrian sauce maker has been active in China and Singapore since 2022 and entered the Japanese market in November 2023.

“The decision to expand to Asia was driven by the dynamic and rapidly growing condiments market in the region. With the growing middle class, increasing urbanisation, rising disposable incomes, and a growing interest in international cuisines, we saw a significant opportunity to introduce our high-quality, all-natural products to a new and discerning customer base. By the end of this year, we hope to enter Thailand and the Philippines.

“Notably, China has become the second-largest ketchup market after the USA, highlighting the immense potential in the region. Our expansion strategy aligns with our commitment to bringing authentic flavours and sustainable products to a global audience,”​ said William Bray, CEO of Curtice Brothers Asia.

The firm also sees a need to streamline its marketing efforts and refocus on creating rich, natural sauces that don’t compromise on taste. It has a sugar-free tomato ketchup but does not intend to produce more of such “healthier” versions at this point.

“There’s a movement of not wanting to consume sugar, I think this group are not my consumers at this point,”​ said Curtice Brothers CEO Jaqueline Bressan, who oversees the firm’s global operations.

“We're very conscious about clean labels. Everything is natural. We have taken all the possible steps to make a healthy product. But there is a limit to where we will go because we don't want to compromise the flavours and the richness of our products.

“It is important to be bold enough to say, this is what we stand for. I think in the past, we tried to make everybody happy but it’s difficult to please everyone. We really had to stop and think who our consumers are and what we can do for them.”

Focus on freshness and authenticity

Bray observes a strong interest in authentic traditional flavours and a growing demand for clean label products, which align perfectly with the firm’s brand heritage and philosophy.

Curtice Brothers’ classic tomato ketchup is made up of 77% ripe, organic tomatoes, way above the market average of 25% or less. There’s also half the sugar and salt compared to leading brands with only 14.9g sugar and 0.86g salt per 100g sauce.

The firm makes its own sauces with its producers in Tuscan, Italy. Its squeeze-bottle sauces, however, are manufactured in various parts of Europe by its parent company, the Develey group.

“The use of 100% natural raw materials also plays a crucial role, because these do not come from chemical production. We only use physical, enzymatic or microbiological processes. In principle, it’s the same as cooking at home,”​ said Bray, referring to the fact that there are no artificial additives or stabilisers. Only fresh tomatoes, apples, onions, vinegar and some spices are added.

Additionally, while the firm already has a full fat mayonnaise available, it will be launching a new version made with quality yolks from free range eggs. The ingredients list is short with only oil, vinegar, and a touch of salt added. There will be no artificial flavours, colours, and preservatives. It will contain a higher egg yolk content for more richness and will come in a squeeze bottle for convenience.

The other Asian bestsellers are the chilli ketchup, which includes the region’s well known spices ginger and chilli, and its BBQ sauce with Asian ingredients like muscovado sugar, curry, and chilli.

Challenges and future plans

Using fresh organic produce comes with challenges such as unpredictable occurrences of crop failures and disruptions in supply chains, which can severely impact the availability of quality ingredients and disrupt production cycles.

The growing emphasis on sustainability from both consumers and retailers adds another layer of complexity to its operations.

“We continuously strive to implement sustainable practices throughout our processes, from sourcing to packaging, to meet these evolving expectations. This includes working with regional suppliers in the places where we produce, and we also try to keep our transport routes short. These are fundamental considerations that are vital to our success. Factors such as ensuring optimal shelf life, streamlining logistics, and maintaining operational efficiency are crucial,”​ said Bressan.

She and Bray said that today’s consumers are inundated with an overwhelming variety of sauce options, which makes the business of crafting sauces challenging. But they are encouraged by Curtice Brothers winning the prestigious Great Taste Award six years in a row, for it shows there is a growing desire among discerning consumers for natural flavours.

“In Asia, we compete with both local and international brands that offer premium condiments. However, our focus on heritage and the artisanal approach sets us apart. We see competitors in both the mass-market and niche segments, but our differentiation lies in our product quality, natural ingredients, and the unique flavours that pay homage to our American roots,”​ said Bray, referencing the original Curtice brothers Edgar and Simeon, who started the ketchup business in New York in 1868.

Inspired by the American siblings, today’s Curtis Brothers was founded in 2014 to recreate the traditional tastes from the past. It has 15 to 20 employees working on producing and marketing the sauces.

“We’re working on expanding our distribution network via strategic importer and distributor relationships to ensure that our products are easily accessible to consumers across different regions where we don’t have a direct presence. As for the future, we are continuously evaluating other emerging markets and potential opportunities for further expansion,”​ said Bressan.

Curtice Brothers products are available through various channels in Asia, including major supermarkets, speciality food stores, and key regional online marketplaces such as Costco throughout Japan, Guoshuhao in Northern China, Sogo in Hong Kong, and Little Farms in Singapore.

Positioned as premium products, Curtice Brothers sauces are priced above average compared to other brands. In Hong Kong, it costs HKD55 (USD7) for 270ml compared to HKD15.90 (USD1.9) for 300g of another regular ketchup brand. Its chilli ketchup costs ¥1,296 (USD8) for 300g in Japan, compared to ¥712 (USD4.4) for 340g of another common chilli sauce brand.

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