When I think of McCormick, my mind wanders to my mother’s spice cabinet, where the thick, red-capped bottles have been gathering dust for decades. During visits home, my siblings and I like to fish out bingo balls like old bottles and gleefully announce their expiration dates—usually closer to our DOBs than the current day.
Started as a door-to-door juice and extract operation in 1889, the brand has been selling spices since 1896. And since then, the recognizable royal blue and red “Mc” logo has graced paprika, cloves, tins and bottles. Cinnamon, and countless other key spices. In America, McCormick’s is ubiquitous, in the back of the pantry before the spices dominate entire sections of grocery store aisles, sometimes, in my mother’s case, for years.
But as brandish as it may seem, McCormick is making a concerted effort to stay (or become) relevant, recently with a line of new seasons. In late April, the spice juggernaut dropped two seasons of limited availability: the first, Miso Caramel and the second, Vanilla, Lime and Thyme. They’re part of the larger Flavor Inspiration line, which McCormick introduced in December 2020 and includes flavors like Salted Maple Bacon Sugar, Garlic Asiago, Umami Ramen and Crème Brulee. These are the new spices The special-editions are only available in small batches, and they sport a decidedly more modern design than other McCormick products. They have a vertical black cap with a bold, cherry red print. Labels come in shades like bone white and pale rose, with typewriter font and printed formula numbers. The red and blue logo is nowhere to be seen.
As a legacy brand known for Old Bay and the Thanksgiving staple, McCormick’s has a certain tension between its old reputation and its efforts to improve its image—one that raises the question: When can other companies offer the extraordinarily sweet, floral New Harvest Turmeric (Gen.) Dr. in southern India. by Salunkhe, as Burlap & Barrel’s website notes) and the earthy, licorice-y single origin Nagauri cumin, where does McCormick’s warming turmeric-cumin blend fit in?
In today’s spice industry, modern brands like Diaspora Co. and Cinnamon Tree Organics are challenging household names by offering transparent sourcing, more sustainable practices, and, frankly, better quality products. Driven by their mission and intentionally small-batch, they speak directly to consumers who are increasingly attuned to the direct correlation between good ingredients and good food, not just an item off a recipe list. And as the spice industry grows, from $5.5 billion in 2020 to a projected $8.6 billion by 2031, the tectonic plates between established giants and game-changing newcomers will continue to shift — sitting on one’s pride (or bay leaves) is not an option. .
However, with $6.3 billion in annual sales and 14,000 employees worldwide, it’s interesting that McCormick, the maker of both Old Bay (a tried-and-true seasoning for a steamed Chesapeake Bay blue crab feast) and the wildly popular Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, of trendy flavors with label designs. Roll out a line that reaches for a more functional experience. McCormick likely understands that consumer purchases are increasingly price-driven and that home cooks are more ambitious than ever; They are open to experimentation and willing to buy ingredients to cook the way they want to eat. And while it’s a tall order, the spice company of many of our parents’ pantries feels like it can satisfy both customers who care about where their spices come from and customers who want to stay on the cutting edge of TikTok-popular flavors. tendencies.
With 133 years in the flavor business, this isn’t McCormick’s first time at the rodeo of changing consumer expectations. In the late ’90s, the Baltimore-based company faced a potentially fatal one-two punch. Demographics were changing: immigration to America was increasing and culinary tastes reflected an increasingly diverse population. Like late The New York Times Reporter Constance L. Hays observed in a 1998 article titled “Tuble in Spice World,” that McCormick’s website recipe database “seems more like a museum of 1950s recipes than a reflection of America at the turn of the millennium.” Recipes like cobbler with canned cherries and mayo-heavy potato salad no longer capture what people want to cook. To boot, home cooking was going out of fashion. Hayes wrote, “As more women trade in ladles for briefcases, sales of staples like nutmeg, cardamom, turmeric, and mace are badly affected.”
After more than two decades, home cooks are back with gusto. Making your own thoughtful, restaurant-quality meals isn’t just practical—it carries a certain cultural cachet. And during the pandemic, which forced an even bigger return to the kitchen, dry spices experienced a renaissance, with blends like those making up the Flavor Inspiration line.
McCormick, meanwhile, has gradually acquired the trappings of a modern company. In addition to paying attention to trends — the new Miso Caramel Seasoning, for example, has emerged from increased recognition of the miso search — McCormick is also following Gen Z’s favorite platform. Kevan Vetter, McCormick’s executive chef and director of culinary development, says that when the Flavor Forecast team saw that corned beef ribs were trending on TikTok, it decided to add its own take to McCormick’s recipe database — cooked with the kitchen tool du jour, the air fryer. , and finished with spicy coconut curd chutney.
The brand has a hearty following on Instagram (currently 330,000). It’s active on Twitter, sometimes sharing nutritious recipe inspiration with cheeky non-sequiturs: “Imagine dating someone who doesn’t season their food,” it tweeted In the month of May. Its YouTube channel caters to ASMR stans, including videos like the deliciously noisy “Baked Taco Chicken Fingers.” It has created at least one viral TikTok. Taken together, McCormick seems committed to facing off against its smaller, smaller competitors on their turfs — online, where the lion’s share of their sales are, and across platforms, because a dynamic social media presence is par for the course.
McCormick has also come a long way in terms of globalizing its offering, both through the acquisition of brands such as Cholula – the iconic Mexican hot sauce – and the development of its spice repertoire. But Brand’s first dilemma remains: Many home cooks are hungry for a variety of spices from around the world and want to know more about where they come from. And now more than ever, they want a more level playing field for the farmers who produce those spices.
To begin responding to that growing consumer desire, McCormick has launched an initiative to engage with the agricultural communities where its ingredients are sourced. “Our goal is to increase the resilience of the 90% of smallholder farmers who grow our key iconic herbs and spices, as measured by increases in skills and capacity, income, access to financial services, education and nutrition, and health,” says Vetter. “Currently, we are working with approximately 23,000 farmers to improve livelihoods with the goal of increasing resilience for 35,000 farmers by 2025.” These commitments certainly sound ambitious, but whether they materially impact opportunities and working conditions for those farmers is anyone’s guess, as is whether or not any of McCormick’s new line will resonate with consumers.
Because branding is always integral to the success (or failure) of a food company, I asked Anna Polonsky, founder and creative director of Polonsky & Friends, a strategy and design studio specializing in the food world, for her take on the revamped look. “The new design definitely feels cleaner and more low-fi, but if you hadn’t told me about it, I would have easily missed the McCormick association,” she said in an email. “I think the ‘lo-fi’-ness and faux-stitch sealer-sticker is meant to convey a more artisanal feel but I don’t think it’s very successful, to be honest; the labels actually feel less designed than artisanal, and the listed flavors Feel very processed.”
Polonksi noted that many older brands try to clean up their branding after a few years or decades—Heinz and Pepsi, to name a couple—but in the case of McCormick, which has rebranded solely for taste inspiration, she was perplexed. intention “Is the plan to refresh all McCormick labels on the bottom line to look more contemporary? Or is the plan to look more functional to compete? [newer companies]At what point do real flavors not make sense?”
I had a chance to sample some of the flavor inspiration myself, and confusion at least partially describes the experience. I didn’t want to like the cheeseburger seasoning, which I showered in a hot order of McDonald’s French fries, but I did. It captured the essence of a fast-food cheeseburger — pickles, special sauce, and all. But then again, a cheeseburger with a side order of cheeseburger french fries felt a bit redundant. The maple bacon sugar had the intense smokiness of an afternoon Texas barbecue joint—too strong for my liking—but the miso caramel spice was a happy marriage of umami and sweet. I can easily imagine it sprinkled on lightly buttered popcorn.
Perhaps the target audience for the Flavor Inspiration line is neither diaspora company customers nor loyal McCormick users, but rather, a broader, less specific audience somewhere in between. After all, McCormick’s attempts to cast himself as a modern brand can feel clumsy at times. In April, it announced the opening of the “Flavour Suite” – a pop-up hotel experience, with “whimsical yet tasteful features” such as global snacks pinned to a wall-sized world map and sundae service on speed dial with toppings. Similar to gomasio, a Japanese seasoning made from mild sesame seeds and salt. Guests sleep on a king-sized ice cream bed, complete with a scratch-and-sniff headboard.
Spice Cabinet Bingo’s familiar red-capped bottles can be hard to match with a brand pulling these big PR stunts. In the same year 1998 the time In the article, the author noted that McCormick was considering aligning himself with the Spice Girls to capitalize on the girl group’s “Spice” cachet and expand its reach. In favor of tradition, McCormick’s then-CEO vetoed the idea. But today, the company seems more willing than ever to mix up old things to reach more consumers and spice up their lives.
Caitlin Roux Gunther With Words is a Paris-based freelance journalist enjoy your food, the taste, T+L, Food52, and more. She has worked in restaurants in Bilbao, Paris and New York, and is currently working on a memoir about her time in Spain.