All Eyes on the QSR Sauce Wars

How Color Can Create
Consumer Interest in Condiments

The Sauce Wars Take Over the Restaurant Landscape

The latest installment in quick service restaurants battling for
consumer attention has undoubtedly been specialty sauces. While proprietary sauces have been a staple of QSR menus for years, they are now center stage for innovation.


McDonald’s brought its famous Big Mac Sauce to individual cups for the first time, allowing fans to enjoy it outside the classic Big Mac.

The brand went even further into sauce creativity later in 2023, launching two entirely new sauces: Mambo Sauce and Sweet & Spicy Jam.



Chick-fil-A which led the pack into retailers with bottled branded sauces, expanded their retail footprint with two new offerings—barbecue and sweet & spicy sriracha—as well as four new salad dressings available in stores in 2023.

They also launched a sauce-themed merchandise line for devotees.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell added a vegan nacho sauce to its menu in the company’s first ever national vegan limited-time-offering.

In other saucy news, Taco Bell has also been partnering with existing sauce brands, like TRUFF and YellowBird®, for headline-grabbing limited run launches.


Other brands joining the fray include Wingstop with a Maple Siracha sauce, Popeye’s updating its chicken sandwich with TRUFF Spicy Mayonnaise, Wendy’s with a trial of Saucy Nuggets in four flavors, Panda Express with a Hot Ones partnership to launch Blazing Bourbon Chicken, and IHOP’s Wonka promotion with an eye-catching purple cream cheese icing. Even professional sports teams can’t resist: the San Antonio Spurs have announced a new signature “Por Vida” hot sauce in partnership with a local brand, Humble House Foods.

Sauce innovation isn’t slowing down,
so what should you consider in development?

Color Amplifies Sauce Interest, Identity, and Flavor

Color is a major factor in consumer enjoyment and purchase interest in food and beverages. Sensient’s consumer research found that products with color optimized to augment the flavor profile garner a
+6% increase in purchase intent over colorless or less colorful products. Similarly, color can improve flavor perception an average +15% across categories.

Sauces that look right taste better.

Brands recognize that the visual of a sauce is a key part of the consumption experience.

Kraft Heinz even launched an award-winning marketing campaign in 2023 that hinged on the exact red shade of their famous ketchup. A color-matched border along the edge of the “label of truth” allows consumers to quickly identify if their bottle is filled with real Heinz or if it’s been replaced by a different ketchup to prevent “ketchup fraud”.


This campaign also highlights the importance of consistency between batches: It would never have been possible to run such a campaign if the exact hue of Kraft Heinz ketchup wasn’t exactly the same every single time.

Color can be used to amplify flavor, identify trusted brands, and provide consistency between batches.

Natural Color Inspiration for the Next Big Sauce

Reach for the rainbow with Sensient’s broad portfolio of natural food colors in your next sauce project.

Here are some ideas to inspire the next launch:

Keep it sweet with a soft pink cherry vanilla sauce for Valentine’s Day, naturally colored with carmine.


Bring on the heat this summer with a bright red Scorchin’ Szechuan sauce, naturally colored with anthocyanins.


Indulge in a bright yellow dipping sauce inspired by a classic Hollandaise, naturally colored with annatto.


Dream big with a creamy blue cloudberry pancake sauce, naturally colored with butterfly pea flower extract.


Explore South American cuisine with a spicy green Aji Verde Peruvian-inspired sauce, naturally colored with butterfly pea flower extract and beta carotene.


Brighten up the menu with sweet and spicy orange zest habanero sauce, naturally colored with paprika.

Are you ready to dive into development?

Our team loves to talk color—give us a call! If you need a fresh color sample, let us know and we’ll have it on its way this week.

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