Packaged salad retail sales are solid, but growth is set to explode, as plain packages get tossed for flavorful kits.
Originally printed in the October 2022 issue of Produce Business.
Packaged salad companies are spurring their future with innovations, connecting to consumer interests in nutrition, health, diet diversity, convenience and environmental concerns.
The global packaged salad market size was valued at $10.78 billion in 2020, according to an analysis by Grandview Research. Growth is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.2% from 2021 to 2028.
Information from the research company, based in San Francisco, CA, indicates the growth of the market can be attributed to the rising popularity of salads and the ease of consumption provided by packaged food. “The availability of pre-packed salads containing a variety of vegetables and fruits, dressed in condiments and dressings, and supplemented by a variety of meats and seafood has fueled the market growth.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers took an unprecedented interest in cooking at home. Even with the world opening back up, cooking at home continues to drive demand for various basic food items and ingredients, including packaged salads, according to Grandview Research. “This scenario is likely to keep the market prospects upbeat.”
As to salad types within the category, Grandview said the packaged greens segment accounted for the largest share, with more than 63% in 2020. But packaged kits are projected to experience the fastest growth from 2021 to 2028, with a CAGR of 8.4%. Grandview’s 2020 research, based on 2016-2019 historical data, projects packaged salad sales would grow to $20.30 billion by 2028.
PACKAGED SALAD KITS GET CREATIVE
Just based on the mathematical possibilities for various ingredients, packaged salad kits give salad designers a large palate for creativity. And such work is filling salad sections in retailers’ salad display sections.
In July, Boskovich Fresh Food Group’s subsidiary Fresh Prep LLC launched its next retail line, Fair Earth Farms, six SKUs. This involves two salad kit flavors and four salad greens blends. The processing and company headquarters is in Oxnard, CA.
Fair Earth’s USDA-certified organic salad kits are “Superfood Crunch” and “Honey Coconut Cashew.” Superfood Crunch brings baby kale, baby spinach, and baby chard with fresh cauliflower rice, carrots and red cabbage topped with crispy quinoa, cranberries, and walnuts, alongside a lemon poppyseed dressing, which provides flavor and is a rich source of Vitamin A and K.
Fair Earth’s salad green mix varieties bring options such as baby spinach, baby arugula, spring mix, and “Power Greens.”
On Sept. 13, Dole Food Co. Inc., Charlotte, NC, announced three new flavor varieties — Thai, dill, and maple — to extend its chopped salad kit line.
Specifically, these Dole-branded items are “Chopped! Tropical Thai Salad Kit,” “Chopped! Maple Pecan Salad Kit” and “Chopped! Double Dill Salad Kit.” They contain no artificial colors or flavors and continue Dole’s practice of combining its fresh chopped lettuces and vegetables with toppings and original dressings to offer flavor.
The Thai salad combines Dole iceberg and green leaf lettuces and carrots with coconut chips, dried mango, cashews and Dole’s Thai Chili Dressing. Dole’s Maple Pecan Salad involves the same three base veggies, which are topped with candied maple pecans, crumbled garlic croutons and Dole’s Maple Vinaigrette Dressing. The Dill Salad kit pulls in Dole green leaf lettuce, kale, green and red cabbage, carrots and green onions with Dole’s Creamy Dill Dressing.
Dole indicates “the three new kits capitalize on triple-digit sales growth of dill and maple vinaigrette dressing products and double-digit sales growth of Thai sweet chili grocery items since last year. The launch also brings the number of Dole Chopped! Salad Kit offerings to 17 and Dole’s line of packaged salad mixes, slaws, kits and meal solutions to 67.”
Deep Silver, senior marketing director at Fresh Prep LLC, and Boskovich Family Farms, says that, along with Fair Earth Farms’ organic salad kits and salad greens, its Green Fork kits, blends, and packaged salads offer some of Boskovich’s core commodity products, such as radishes, cilantro, and parsley. The Green Fork line currently offers four salad kits, four salad blends and five packaged product items.
This is important, Silver says, because consumers “are more cautious about the handling of their produce, especially in light of the pandemic. The pre-packaged vegetables feature all the necessary UPC information on pack, making self-checkout quick and easy for consumers wanting to get in and out of the store fast.”
ADDRESSING ENVIRONMENTAL INTERESTS
Boskovich and others are answering the call to address environmental concerns. Not all the salad companies contacted for this story were available or cared to comment.
From his position with a leading salad dressing and toppings manufacturer, Litehouse Inc., in Sandpoint, ID, Luke Miller has a good view of packaged salad trends. Miller is vice president of sales for Litehouse’s value-added and away-from-home business.
He says many packaged salad companies address environmental concerns through efforts to conserve energy and implement other green policies.
But salad companies are reluctant to move toward environmentally friendly packaging because of concerns about losses in salad shelf life, Miller notes.
However, Silver indicates that Fair Earth Farms is the first in its category to package organic salad kits and salad blends in patent-pending, fully compostable, plant-based bags, which are printed with brightly colored, water-based inks and will break down over time in soil, contributing to farming’s regenerative cycle. Shelf life remains the same as conventional packaging available today, which is 14 days from production.
“Consumers have been asking for a more sustainable solution to the plastic crisis facing our planet and we’ve heard them loud and clear,” Silver says. “Consumers can now not only feel good about what they are putting in their bodies, but how they’re helping the planet as well.”
Fair Earth Farms is a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and is certified through the Biodegradable Products Institute. Additionally, the line’s packaging includes a How2Compost label that clearly communicates composting instructions to the consumers.
SUSTAINABILITY GETS RECOGNITION
While Local Bounti Corp., based in Hamilton, MT, is a grower and not a lettuce processor, it represents progress toward sustainability sought by the leafy greens industry. In September, Local Bounti announced it had received The Sustainability Leadership Award by the Business Intelligence Group as part of the 2022 BIG Sustainability Awards. Bounti’s trademarked “Stack & Flow Technology” was recognized for “achieving significant sustainability breakthroughs in farming.”
Local Bounti is a U.S. indoor agriculture company that combines aspects of vertical and greenhouse growing technologies.
The company further explains that its “Stack & Flow” improves sustainability by significantly reducing the crop cycle of its leafy greens, increasing crop yield by over 35%, and drastically reducing water and land use compared to conventional agriculture.
In a September news release, Craig Hurlbert, Local Bounti’s co-CEO, says his firm “is quickly becoming one of the largest Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) companies in America with a relentless focus on both environmental and financial sustainability. Our superior produce varieties are grown sustainably with sunlight, use 90% less water and land, and last three- to five-times longer in your refrigerator than traditionally grown leafy greens.”
MEETING HEALTH INTERESTS
“Category growth is not stopping, especially as we head further into inflationary times,” observes Boskovich’s Silver. “People may choose to eat out less, but still want restaurant-quality meals, so that is where the salad kits category comes in. Both our Green Fork and Fair Earth Farms salad kits are obviously delicious on their own, but with the addition of protein and maybe a grain, they can become a more hearty center-of-plate meal for our consumers and a quick way to get a healthy dinner on the table.”
Silver adds, “When we can, we like to call out healthy claims to make it easier for our consumers to make healthy choices at shelf. We have made it easier for consumers to identify excellent vitamin sources on the front of pack.”
ADJUSTING TO THE PANDEMIC
Miller of Litehouse said that, pre-pandemic, sales to the packaged salad business were significantly growing, and business remained good through a portion of the pandemic. But late in 2020 and going into 2021, a lot of major dressings suppliers ran into labor constraints. This led to a significant number of consolidations of SKUs. Business of the lower-performing flavors went away because labor shortages forced a production cut back.
Since late 2021, Litehouse regained its footing and early this year, salad dressing and topping production reached a “99%-plus fill rate.” Salad industry innovation is renewed, Miller says.
Silver says during the pandemic, when the restaurants were forced to close, “it obviously impacted our foodservice business severely as it did for many others. We had just invested in the processing plant and retail was the obvious next step for the company to maximize the capital investment.”