Back in 2002, a friend and I were having lunch at a TGI Friday’s in Wisconsin. We’d both ordered burgers and when they arrived, my friend asked the server for a side of ranch dressing. Having seen people use ranch as a dipping sauce for french fries before, I didn’t think much of it . . . until it arrived at the table and she mixed it around with her ketchup. I was equal parts repulsed and intrigued. This “kranchup,” as she called it, was a revolting shade of orangey-pink but tasted . . . not that bad. OK, fine, it was even kind of delicious.
Since the early-2000s, ranch has only grown in its popularity and its use. According to a press release from Port Washington, N.Y., research company The NPD Group, ranch holds double the share of dollars and units shipped than blue cheese dressing, which holds the No. 2 spot in the ready-to-use salad dressing category.
Ranch flavor is the Swiss Army knife of salad dressings. It dresses salads, gets kids to eat their vegetables and adds oomph as an ingredient; all reasons why it is the top ready-to-use dressing flavor shipped to food-service outlets.
“Salad dressing is a good example of how a staple item can extend beyond its traditional use. Ranch dressing has become a mainstay not just for salads but also for wings and other dishes as well,” says Annie Roberts, vice president, NPD SupplyTrack.
It’s now totally commonplace to see ranch-flavored everything: potato chips, pretzels, pork chops, etc. It seems like nearly every item on a chain restaurant’s menu comes complete with a side of ranch. I’ve also seen ranch mixed with Frank’s Red Hot as a dipping sauce at a diner and I am 99.9 percent sure that I tasted “kranchup” at the Minnesota State Fair under a different name.
Ranch will no doubt continue delighting palates for many years to come but I wonder what the next big flavor or sauce to take over will be. From the looks of things it could very well be sriracha. (Might there be a “sri-ranch-a” in our future?) NPD recognized honey Dijon dressing, Asian peanut dressing and several vinaigrette flavors as ones that are gaining steam.
What’s your prediction? Can ranch further improve its position? Can other flavors and dressings? Are flavor-makers paying attention to what consumers are doing to make their products even more exciting?