So Much More Than Ketchup

Research reveals consumers’ must-have sausage toppings

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill.-- In the ongoing evolution of the roller grill, condiments are becoming just as important as the sausages themselves. A survey of nearly 1,000 consumers reveals what toppings convenience store operators should consider for their own condiment bar—particularly when trying to compete against quick-service and fast-casual restaurants.

The study, conducted by Johnsonville Sausage, surveyed consumers who eat at QSRs once per month or more to determine their “must-have” toppings for various sausage types. The results weren’t the expected ketchup and yellow mustard but bolder, more complex offerings.

Cooked onions are the No. 1 response for brats, smoked sausage and Italian sausage types; they rank No. 2 for Polish sausage and chorizo. Brown/spicy mustard, cheese and cooked bell peppers also rank high in importance for consumers across a number of sausage types.

The findings reveal a consumer who is looking for more than the standard fare, says Sarah Babb, senior brand management strategy, foodservice, for Johnsonville. “[They] are looking at it as, ‘Wow, I can go in and have more of a foodservice offering than just a sausage off a roller grill. I add my toppings and have more of a robust sandwich with things I like.’ ”

Johnsonville conducted the research to help operators understand what guests might seek. The results led the Sheboygan Falls, Wis.-based company to begin developing a line of toppings as a way of providing a turnkey program for operators with best practices around prep and hold times, food safety and maintaining product integrity.

The fact that QSR consumers were surveyed is crucial, because it offers c-store retailers eager to steal market share from the restaurant industry insights into its coveted customers.

Sausages are largely an untapped menu item among the major QSRs and fast-casual chains, aside from Sonic and some regional players. This allows c-stores to leverage their expertise in the category, but it also increases the urgency to elevate the offering through unique products and a fresh, modernized in-store experience.                                        

“You have to look at your space. … Figure out how to make it a place where [consumers] want to come in and feel more comfortable,” says Babb.

She recommends retailers look at what the recreation industry is doing with sausages for inspiration on evolving the offering: “It’s still that hot dog and sausage, but it’s what they’re doing with them—and the toppings.”

Regional preferences play a crucial role in a c-store’s roller grill and toppings program too, says Babb. Italian sausage means something different to consumers on the East Coast vs. the Midwest, and even spicy flavor profiles vary from state to state, be it the sharp heat of jalapeno or the smoky punch of chipotle.

What follows are the top five must-have toppings by sausage type from the Johnsonville survey. Click here for more on Haute Dogs from the March issue of CSP magazine.


  1. Cooked onions
  2. Brown/spicy mustard
  3. Cheese
  4. Sweet peppers
  5. Yellow mustard

Italian Sausage

  1. Cooked onions
  2. Cheese
  3. Cooked green bell pepper
  4. Cooked red bell pepper
  5. Brown/spicy mustard

Smoked Sausage

  1. Cooked onions
  2. Cheese
  3. Brown/spicy mustard
  4. Barbecue sauce
  5. Cooked bell peppers

Polish Sausage

  1. Brown/spicy mustard
  2. Cooked onions
  3. Cheese
  4. Yellow mustard
  5. Cooked bell peppers


  1. Cheese
  2. Cooked onions
  3. Salsa
  4. Cooked bell peppers
  5. Raw onion