Originally printed in the October 2018 issue of Produce Business.
Packaged salads have grown in a short 30 years from non-existent to the No. 1- ranked vegetable and No. 2 category overall after berries, in produce department dollar sales, according to FreshFacts on Retail, 2017 Year In Review, published by the Washington, DC-headquartered United Fresh Produce Association. Said another way, packaged salads amounted to a $5.5 billion category during the 52 weeks ending July 28, 2018, according to West Dundee, IL-based Nielsen Perishables Group data, up 3.8 percent in dollars. There are many factors driving this continued growth.
“Packaged salads have evolved into various blends, kits and, most recently, chopped kits and bowls, all driven by consumers’ increasing needs for convenience,” says Michael Golderman, marketing brand leader for Fresh Express Inc., in Salinas, CA. At the same time, “more products are moving to what can be described as closer to ‘restaurant-quality,’ to provide “kitchen confidence’ to consumers who don’t have the culinary skills or time … or both, to prepare delicious salads. Additionally, ‘clean/cleaner’ ingredients are becoming increasingly in demand. Locally grown is another trend that will take on more significance and importance as we move forward.”
Sunny Crunch – Iceberg-Leafy Green Hybrid
Sunny Crunch is a hybrid lettuce that blends the crunch of an Iceberg with the nutritional value of darker-colored leafy greens to make a family-friendly salad starter. The lettuce, rarely seen in the U.S. market, sells in a 4-ounce clamshell made of 100-percent recycled plastics. The product ticks the local box, too, with 24-hour, harvest-to-store delivery, from retailers near the company’s hydroponic greenhouse farms in Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and in 2019, Texas. Sunny Crunch is part of the BrightFarms innovation line, which includes Fresh Kick, Happy Beet and Mighty Chard, launching in 2019.
Spinach Miso Crunch Salad Kit
Westlake Village, CA
Consumers desire exciting new flavors and the health halo of fermented foods. They will find both in Dole’s newest packaged salad: Spinach Miso Crunch Salad Kit. The 8.3-ounce kit, which launched in North America in August, combines Baby Spinach, Baby Red Chard, sliced carrots, sliced almonds, cashews and wonton strips with Dole’s Own Japanese Miso Dressing. This kit is the first in the market with a Miso dressing, the seventh kit in the company’s Premium Salad Kit line and 30th salad kit overall. Multi-serve kits are the fastest-growing segment of the packaged salad category, up 14 percent over the previous 52 weeks ending July 28, 2018, according to Nielsen data as supplied by Dole.
3. Earthbound Farm
Mighty Spinach, Red Baby Butter and RosÉ Blend
San Juan Bautista, CA
Years of work with seed partners to develop multi-leaf varieties with unique flavors and textures, all grown organically, characterize Earthbound Farm’s latest trio of packaged salads. These are Mighty Spinach (Spinach, Bok Choy, Pak Choi, Tatsoi), Red Baby Butter, and Rosé Blend (Lolla Rossa, Red Oak, Red Tango, Red Baby Butter, Radicchio). The latter is like spring mix but has slightly sturdier leaves with a little crunch that can stand up to many different types of dressing. Each of these salads is packed in a 5-ounce clamshell.
4. Fresh Express
Pumpkin Panzanella Kit
Caesar salad kits account for 67 percent of lettuce kit sales, but only 31 percent of total kits, including chopped kits and bowls, according to IRI data for the week ending March 25, 2018, as supplied by Fresh Express. This is the market niche the company’s new Chopped Caesar Kit fills. The 10.4-ounce kit contains chopped Romaine lettuce, herb seasoned croutons, cracked pepper, grated Parmesan cheese and Parmesan Caesar dressing. The company’s second newest product, its Pumpkin Panzanella Kit (Arugula, Baby kale, pumpkin spiced cornbread croutons, pumpkin spiced pepitas, cherry flavored cranberries, Orchard Vinaigrette dressing) in a 7.1-ounce bag, rides high on the popularity of pumpkin flavor.
5. Gotham Greens
Greenhouse Grown Romaine
Romaine is one of the most popular salad staples. However, recent food safety issues have led some customers to seek alternatives. Greenhouse-grown Romaine is now one of the choices. Gotham Greens grows its pesticide-free premium Romaine in its regional Midwest and East Coast greenhouses, which creates a highly traceable and transparent supply chain. Decentralized production also eliminates the environmental footprint and food waste linked to shipping produce long distances, thus adding freshness and local appeal. The Romaine is sold in 4.5-ounce clamshell packages.
6. Mann Packing
Basil Pesto and Tomato Bolognese Veggie Noodle Kits
Following last year’s successful launch of its Spicy Thai Nourish Bowls featuring fresh Kohlrabi noodles, Mann Packing recently has extended its line of value-added, warm meat kits to include the 10.75-ounce Basil Pesto and 11.5-ounce Tomato Bolognese. Both feature plant-based protein, with vegan Chick’n in the pesto sauce and vegan sausage in the Bolognese. The bowls were developed by an expert panel of chefs and feature trending Millennial-favorite vegetables, such as Kohlrabi, Butternut squash, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, kale and Sugar Snap peas. Both bowls can be microwaved and ready to eat in four minutes.
Peel & ReSeal Packaging on Organic Salads & Kits
Misionero has updated its packaging to capture the maximum freshness of its packaged salads while also allowing for product visibility. Peel and Reseal is now available across the company’s conventional and organic salads. This new packaging uses 20 percent less plastic per clamshell combined with a consumer-friendly lidding film. Additionally, Misionero is focusing on new variety trials to create more unique flavor profiles in its Earth Green’s Organic Line, as well as continuing to add internationally inspired ingredients to its Earth Green’s Salad Kits, Wholesome and Simple Salad Lines.
8. Ready Pac Foods
Sweet & Spicy Korean Chopped Salad Kit
Korean is one of three ethnic cuisines going mainstream, according to New York-based consultant’s Baum+Whiteman’s 11 Hottest Food & Beverage Trends in Restaurant & Hotel Dining for 2018. Hot on this trend, Ready Pac has launched the market’s first Korean-flavored chopped salad kit. The 11.5-ounce bagged kit, which is toss-and-serve ready, contains a chopped base of Romaine lettuce, Napa and Red cabbages. This is accented with diced radish, celery and shredded carrots. A slightly spicy Gochujang Vinaigrette is included, as are black sesame seeds and puffed brown rice as a crunchy garnish. The kit can be cross-merchandised next to flank steak or shrimp to create a healthy dinner salad.
9. Taylor Farms
Caesar, Cheddar Ranch & ClubGrilled Chicken Salad Kits
Antibiotic-free (ABF) white meat chicken is uniquely featured in chopped salad kits launched in August by Taylor Farms. These hit the bullseye on the clean-ingredient entrée theme. Each is packed with more than 30 grams of protein per 14.5- to 15.25-ounce bag, which serves four. Three flavors feature the top-selling salad dressings: Caesar Grilled Chicken (Romaine, cheese and garlic croutons, shredded Parmesan, ABF chicken, Caesar dressing), Cheddar Ranch Grilled Chicken (green and red cabbage, Romaine, kale, carrots, green onion, uncured bacon, Cheddar cheese, ABF chicken, Ranch dressing) and Club Grilled Chicken (green and red cabbage, Romaine, kale, carrots, uncured bacon, green onion, ABF chicken, Blue Cheese dressing). Distribution will expand to the U.S. East Coast in January 2019.
Organic Chicken Avocado Ranch Salad
Two of the fastest-growing packaged salad segments are completes/kits and organic. The two have rarely met until now. Tessemae’s has introduced five complete salads made with organic ingredients all packaged in 6.2-ounce containers. Varieties are: Spinach Bacon Ranch (baby spinach, Tessemae’s Creamy Ranch dressing, sea salt bacon topper and organic chicken), Sesame Ginger Greens (Baby spinach, Tat Soi, Mizuna, carrots, Tessemae’s Sesame Ginger dressing with Sambal Kick topper), Green Goddess Crunch (wild Arugula, Tessemae’s Green Goddess dressing, Honey Crunch topper and fresh goat cheese), and Chicken Avocado Ranch (chopped green kale, Radicchio and broccoli, Tessemae’s Avocado Ranch dressing, and sesame seed topper with organic chicken).