Mixes, Blends, Bowls and Kits

Mann's Arcadian HarvestPhoto Courtesy of Mann Packing

Packaged salads offering healthful ingredients, ethnic choices and convenience are how consumers want to indulge within the category.

Dole Salad KitThe influence of food culture and changing demographics in the U.S. is impacting how, when and what consumers eat. More specifically, there is an important overlap between health, wellness and convenience, reinforced by taste. These are among the factors fueling sales of packaged salads, which represented 7.8 percent of total produce sales, during the 52 weeks ending July 2, 2016, according to data supplied by the Chicago, IL-headquartered Nielsen Perishables Group.

“We have seen a change in what consumers are looking for in fresh foods, including packaged salads,” says Tristan Simpson, chief marketing officer for Ready Pac Foods, in Irwindale, CA. “They want more healthful products, more ethnic choices and added convenience, with a little indulgence thrown in. Consumers are also looking for more functional ingredients, including nutrient-dense ingredients, such as dark leafy greens, ancient grains and seeds, nuts and berries.”

The convenience factor of packaged salads has dramatically increased the consumption of produce, says Vicky St. Geme, vice president of marketing for Taylor Farms, in Salinas, CA. St. Geme cites Nielsen Perishables Group data that shows the total fresh category at retail grew 5.5 percent from 2012 to 2015, a Nielsen Homescan Survey in 2015 that reveals the average basket ring with produce versus without produce is $62.40 and $33.55, respectively, and Nielsen Perishables Group statistics for the 52 weeks ending April 30, 2016 that show an 8 percent dollar growth in packaged salads versus the same time a year ago.

What’s New

The staples sell best when it comes to packaged salads, says Samantha Cabaluna, managing director of the San Juan Bautista, CA-headquartered Earthbound Farm. “Baby Spinach and Spring Mix are the top items. They become true staples on regular shopping trips, because they’re familiar to all and people know what to do with them.”

Beyond this, there are particular trends among the sub-categories of packaged salads. “We have seen excellent growth across most segments, notably blends, kits and organics,” says Fabian Pereira, head of marketing for Salinas, CA-based Fresh Express. “This is driven by consumer need-based innovation, deeper shopper and category insights, customer support and flawless sales execution.”

Earthbound Farms Salad MixMixes & Blends: Shoppers at Bristol Farms, a 12-store chain headquartered in Carson, CA, look for gourmet and baby greens rather than everyday Iceberg lettuce blends, says produce director, John Savidan. “Baby kales, mixed maches, spinach blends, tender leaves and all types of arugulas are most popular. In the future, micro lettuces might be an interesting way to go, perhaps take up the baby greens a notch.”

Consumers want maximum functionality, yet see various mixes differently, according to CarrieAnn Arias, vice president of marketing at Dole Fresh Vegetables, in Monterey, CA. “For example, they look at cut-lettuce mixes as a salad base for lunch or dinner, or as a sandwich topping or meal garnish, and see baby lettuce salads more as a healthy meal choice. Overall, we’re noticing a shift from traditional cut lettuce mixes to baby lettuce mixes like our Baby Spinach, Spring Mix and 50/50 Mix.”

In general, darker colored salad greens are trending as consumers become savvier to the health benefits, explains Jacob Shafer, communication specialist for the Mann Packing Co., in Salinas, CA. “In a Technomic study focusing on lettuce, results showed three-fourths of respondents (77 percent) said the nutritional value of salad greens is important or extremely important to them, and nearly three quarters of consumers (73 percent) said salad greens with a darker color provide more nutritional value than lighter colored salad greens.”

Dark colored greens, such as red and green kale, are ingredients in Taylor Farm’s June-launched Chef Crafted Salad Blends. “Each of these premium salad includes a foundation of leafy greens, vegetables, herbs and fruit. The salads are presented to consumers in a rigid tray hermetically sealed for freshness,” says St. Geme.

The six item line includes Kale and Beet (green kale, red kale, beets, carrots and red cabbage) Apples and Greens (spring mix, apples and carrots) and Greens and Sunshine (baby red butter lettuce, romaine, grape tomatoes, radishes, green onions, broccoli and carrots).

Bowls & Kits: “Bowls and kits are starting to make a comeback due to retail price points and ‘time starved’ customers,” says Jay Schneider, produce director at Acme Markets, a 110-store chain headquartered in Malvern, PA, which is part of the 2,200-plus Albertsons family of banners. Salad kits increased in sales from an annual growth rate of 18.3 percent in 2012 to 31.7 percent in 2015, according to Nielsen Perishables Group data.

“Salad kits are driving the category, because consumers want all components for one-stop-meal-shopping, convenience and simple assembly,” explains Taylor Farm’s St. Geme. “While older consumers typically purchase salad blends and add their own veggies and toppings, younger consumers — especially Millennials and Centennials with their on-the-go, clock-less eating habits — purchase salad kits. Marketing salad kits and bowls tends to be more about a busy, on-the-go lifestyle versus to a specific male or female demographic. More pre-assembled offerings (perhaps smaller single-serve portions of bagged salad kits) will continue to be the trend as consumers’ lives get busier.”

Caesar continues to be a salad kit mainstay, say industry professionals. As a result, Dole added two new Caesar kits: its Chef’s Choice Caesar Kit and Family-Size Ultimate Caesar Kit, which bring its Caesar offerings to six separate SKUs.

“Our new family size Caesar, as well as new Creamy Balsamic and Country Ranch Salad Kits, were designed to be both paired with meals as well as stand-alone as the star of the plate,” says Dole’s Arias.

Apio Inc., introduced two new kits in August: Strawberry Harvest and Sunflower Kale, as well as Southwest and Asian Sesame kits, which were released in February.

“Both Strawberry Harvest and Sunflower Kale are unique and give consumers a different and excellent tasting experience,” says Anne Byerly, vice president of marketing for the Guadalupe, CA-based company. “Superfoods continue to be extremely popular — consumers are seeking nutrient-dense products where ‘every calories works hard for you’ as they seek to eat healthier diets that are also convenient and delicious.”

The hottest salads out now are chopped kits, says Acme’s Schneider. “These helped to increase the kit category, along with being on almost every restaurant menu. Looks like the chopped salad trend is here to stay.” Sweet Kale Chopped Salad is one of Taylor Farms’ fastest growing products, according to St. Geme, yet new product introductions include a Farmhouse Bacon Chopped Salad (Romaine, kale sunflower seeds, bacon and a sweet onion dressing) and Mediterranean Chopped Salad Kit (radicchio, escarole, endive, broccoli, feta cheese, pita-style chips and basil balsamic vinaigrette).

One trend in kits is a variety of distinctive add-ons such as proteins, nuts and fruits, says Fresh Express’ Pereira. “We are introducing Orchard Kit SKUs that are highly unique and leverage on trendy/healthy fruit based ingredients. These will be available in three flavors: Strawberry Fields (baby spinach, dried strawberries, toasted sliced almonds and strawberry vinaigrette dressing), Pear Gorgonzola (Romaine, green and red leaf lettuces, Lolla Rosa, green Tango lettuce, green and red Oak Leaf lettuce, arugula, mizuna, tatsoi, baby spinach, radicchio, dried pears, frosted almonds, and pear gorgonzola vinaigrette), and Apple & Cheddar (mixed lettuces, Granny Smith apples, dried apricots, aged white Cheddar cheese, white balsamic vinaigrette and frosted almonds).”

Organic: “Organic Salads are growing at record pace and can account for more than 30 percent-plus of the total bagged salad category and 40 percent of total organic sales in the produce department. I think we will see organics continue to grow and the cost and retails improve,” says Acme Markets Schneider.

Millennials, both older with children and the younger segment, as well as Gen Z (or Centennials), are driving the demand for organic, according to Taylor Farm’s St. Geme. “Young parents are especially interested in feeding their children food with the cleanest possible ingredients and are willing to pay more for those products.”

Likely the biggest area of new product development in the organic arena is salad kits. Ready Pac introduced its four-item line: Caesar, Zesty Greek, Kickin’ Southwest and Sweet Kale. Each contains a prepared mix of organic greens, vegetables, cheeses, nuts, seeds and dressings.

“This new line-up was born out of the rising popularity of chopped salad kits and the desire by consumers for cleaner, organic foods,” says Ready Pac’s Simpson.

Other companies are following this trend in product development. Taylor Farms Organic Chopped Salads in Sriracha Ranch, Asian Ginger and Toasted Sesame started hitting shelves in late summer. In September, Fresh Express launched its Organic Kits in three flavors: Classic Caesar, Sweet Dijon Onion and Pomegranate Cranberry. Likewise, this fall, Earthbound Farm introduces its take on organic chopped salad kits with BBQ Ranch, Southwestern and Asian flavors. Dole is answering the demand too by introducing two new organic salad kits — Caesar and Apple Dijon, this month, as well as three new salad mixes. Additional organic salad flavor varieties are scheduled for launch in early 2017.

“Organic consumers want the choices that traditional consumers have enjoyed for years: a restaurant-quality, nutrient-dense salad experience that tastes great and is offered in a re-sealable clamshell, preferred by consumers as the ‘gold standard’ of organic salad packaging,” says Dole’s Arias.

Quick Guide To Introducing New Salads

Ad features and in-store activities, “ensure consumers recognize the new salads at point of sale,” says Vicky St. Geme, vice president of marketing for Taylor Farms, in Salinas, CA.

Tasting is believing, says Anne Byerly, vice president of marketing for the Guadalupe, CA-based Apio, Inc. “Our favorite way to launch new salads is to run demos at partner retailers. Accounts like Costco, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club have been wonderful in working with us to ensure consumers can try and love our salads — once they try the product, they are hooked. In addition to sampling, secondary displays, shopper loyalty cards and IRCs (or temporary price reductions) are wonderful too. We are featuring more new or special products on our retail partner’s social media sites, often with recipes.”

Yet in a crowded market place, it is survival of the fittest, says Fabian Pereira, head of marketing for Salinas, CA-based Fresh Express. “In order to survive, new products must fulfill a genuine consumer want, need or desire. It needs to be differentiated enough to drive incremental consumption occasions and make more money for the retailer.”

To assess “fitness,” Jay Schneider, produce director at Malvern, PA-based Acme Markets, and his team conduct four- to five-week and 13-week shrink analysis of the chain’s packaged salad category.

“Anything that does not perform, we take it out,” he says. “It’s a very surgical approach. There are numerous new items that go in and out through the year. However, at the end of the day, the Top 5 selling SKUs always remain the same and that is from where most of the sales are generated.”