Salad Blends: What’s New & How To Sell More

Salad BlendsPhoto Courtesy of Taylor Farms

With consumers wanting to eat healthier, these simple kits offer variety and convenience.

Dole Organic Kale

Photo Courtesy of Dole

Eating healthful foods like salads was once viewed as “have-to-eat” diet fare. Today, more than half (62 percent) of American consumers are trying to eat healthier, according to Better-for-you Eating Trends: Spotlight on Real, published in September 2016 by market research firm Mintel. At the same time, industry stats show that organic is no longer just a trend; it’s a lifestyle. Specifically, U.S. organic sales posted a new record of $43.3 billion in 2015, up 11 percent from the prior year and more than three times the overall food growth of 3 percent, per data released by the Organic Trade Association on May 19, 2016. Put these two factors together and it’s easy to see the direction of consumer demand. For example, organic packaged salads represented 19.1 percent of packaged salad dollar sales at retail, according to data provided by Chicago-based Nielsen Perishables Group for the 52-weeks ending Nov. 26, 2016.

“Conventional shoppers are crossing over more now to organic salads,” says Jay Schneider, produce director at Acme Markets, a 179-store chain headquartered in Malvern, PA, which is part of the 2,200-plus Albertsons family of banners. “Our top three sellers are 16-ounce clamshells of spinach, arugula and spring mix. Collectively, organic salads are the Number One organic produce item by consumption by far.”

What’s more, organic salad blends represented 10.2 percent of packaged salad dollar sales during the same time period and have grown +7.1 percent compared to a -3.1 percent for conventional blends.

“With sales of organic salads growing, it’s natural that sales of organic salad blends will grow too; and we’ve seen this,” says Ed Osowski, director of produce and floral for Martin’s Super Markets, a 22-store chain based in South Bend, IN.

Innovation‭ ‬&‭ ‬The Rise Of Kits

Diversity and convenience are the two chief trends driving organic salad blend innovation and sales.

“As consumers increasingly perceive organic as a necessity, more diverse organic offerings are naturally following,” says CarrieAnn Arias, vice president of marketing for Dole Fresh Vegetables, in Monterey, CA. “This has certainly been the case with Dole. Our organic salad line now offers a breadth and variety of organic mixes or blends — from 50/50 Mix, Arugula, Spring Mix and Super Spinach to Kale Mix and Baby Spinach and Arugula — that simply wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago.”

Beyond favorite greens such as kale, “health-minded consumers are looking for innovative blends, such as different nutrient-dense greens like chard, collard, mustard and beet greens that are packed with flavor,” says Megan Ichimoto, marketing supervisor for San Miguel Produce in Oxnard, CA, which sells conventional and organic products under its Cut ‘N Clean label. “This is because blends that used to be used just for a salad are now being used in smoothies, juices, pizza toppings, and cooking in pastas and soups.”

Consumers’ needs for speed are paramount today when it comes to putting meals on the table.

“Organic salads are entering the fastest-growing section of salads — kits,” says Fabian Pereira, head of marketing for Salinas, CA-based Fresh Express. “Millennials, Gen X and younger families, all of whom are among the key demographic shopper for organic salads, are time-constrained. Kits address these needs; and this is giving rise to more launches of organic blend kits, organic chopped kits and organic single-serve bowls.”

“Some of the organic chopped kits are showing signs of growth,” says Acme Market’s Schneider, “but nowhere close to the top items. Customers tend to stick with the basics.” Nearly every major manufacturer of organic salad blends has brought a kit to the market in the past 12 to 24 months. Ready Pac Foods, for example, launched its four-item line of Organic Chopped Salad Kits in June 2016. One example is Zesty Green, a mix of organic escarole, endive, Romaine and radicchio along with carrots, Feta cheese crumbles, herb-seasoned flatbread strips and Greek-inspired vinaigrette. According to Tristan Simpson, chief marketing officer of the Irwindale, CA-based company, this was the first of its kind on the market at the time and created a new segment within the category.

In August 2016, Taylor Farms introduced three organic chopped salad kits to its line of nine conventional counterparts. One of these, Organic Sriracha Ranch Chopped Salad, features a blend of Romaine, radicchio and cabbage, as well as other veggies, Cheddar cheese, pepitas, tortilla strips and dressing. “These products address the quick, convenient, easy and healthy meal solution for the busy, on-the-go, time-starved consumer,” says Vicky St. Geme, vice president of marketing for the Salinas, CA-headquartered company. “It also meets the needs of consumers looking for more variety and flavor in their salad and meal options.”

Last fall, Fresh Express extended its conventional salad kit offerings by introducing organic salad kits. These include a Sweet Dijon Onion, which has a mix of baby kale, baby spinach, red chard and green chard, in addition to dried peas, seeds and dressing. Similarly, the Pomegranate Cranberry offers a blend of Romaine, radicchio and tango lettuces.

“These flavors build on something familiar without adding new layers in the consumer’s mind. We have consumer tested all our organic kits to make sure that they drive high purchase interest and most importantly, taste very good,” says Pereira.

Also, last fall, Dole Fresh Vegetables expanded its organic salad line to six organic salad blends and two organic salad kits packaged in what the company calls “consumer-preferred clamshells.” One of these is Organic Apple Dijon with spring mix.

“These organic kits include everything consumers need to quickly prepare and enjoy a restaurant-quality organic salad experience at home: restaurant-inspired toppings, signature dressings and nutritious salad greens. They can be served as a side dish or, with the addition of protein, as a main dish for lunch or dinner,” says Arias.

Marketing‭ ‬&‭ ‬Merchandising

Elevate Salad Kit

Photo Courtesy of Ready Pac

“We know from experience that salad consumers respond best to a well maintained produce department stocked with fresh, pristine product. This is especially true of Millennial shoppers. As the Instagram generation, these consumers value visual presentation, making produce quality more important than ever,” says Dole’s Arias.

At Acme Markets the organic salad blends are promoted on refrigerated end caps to give the products adequate and eye-catching space.

While many retailers value a clean floor policy, especially in produce, all types of point-of-sale materials can help draw attention to the products and where they sit on shelf, says Nathalie Fontanilla Oetzel, senior director, R&D Greens, for the Denver-based WhiteWave Foods Company, which markets organic packaged salads under the Earthbound Farm brand. “We have been successful in creating danglers with alternative uses for salad products like our kale, and have showcased delicious-looking photos of smoothies and pizza to get people to start thinking about how they are going to be using the product while still in the store. That is a win-win for retailers because they can use danglers to start building basket sizes and driving to other ingredients across the store.”

In displays, Taylor Farms’ St. Geme suggests allotting sufficient space allocation for multiple-sized organic salad offerings to capture diverse shopper household sizes. “We work with retailers to create a ‘Meal Display Case’ which includes organic lettuce blends, vegetables, a protein (meat or meat substitute) and marinades/spices. We also include several simple recipes that can be created in 30 minutes using these ingredients — like one giant Meal Kit Display that changes each week. It’s almost like a Blue Apron or Hello Fresh on a larger scale in the grocery store.”

“Figure out how to take the risk out of the purchase for them and incent them to give these products loyalty moving forward. If you offer a great product, they will continue to come back.”

— Nathalie Fontanilla Oetzel, WhiteWave Foods

Packaging design and the physical packing itself can set a product apart and entice consumers to “trade-up” from conventional to organic.

“Organic salads are generally placed first in the traffic pattern to define a retailer’s commitment to organic. If it is an organic product, the packing should look and feel natural —minimalist even. Recipe and usage messaging can also help set the product apart with packaging that leads you to learn more and get recipes and tips from our social media properties,” says St. Geme.

Distribution and retailer support are key to drive awareness and trial, according to Fresh Express’ Pereira. “It’s important that manufacturers and retailers work together to make shoppers aware and get them to buy the product the first time. Based on our consumer research, if we get this done we will be able to drive repeat purchase because of its excellent taste.”

Retailers and suppliers can help to put organic salad blends into shopper’s hands in a variety of ways. “This can be through a demo or free coupons,” says WhiteWave Foods’ Oetzel. “Figure out how to take the risk out of the purchase for them and incent them to give these products loyalty moving forward. If you offer a great product, they will continue to come back and purchase on ad and at full price.”

On average, after promotional pricing reductions the price difference between organic and conventional salad blends averages 50-cents at retail, according to St. Geme. “The difference has significantly declined over time, greatly reducing any barrier to trial and repeat sales.”

Another way to encourage shoppers to purchase organic salad blends is to feature ad support. For example, Osowski at Martin’s Super Markets features four to five organic produce items in the chain’s circular each week; twice monthly this will include organic salads and blends such as spring mix.

In addition, Fresh Express’ Pereira suggests instantly redeemable coupons, in-store targeted couponing via Catalina, Customer Loyalty Card and Digital programs and targeted social media ads via google, Facebook and YouTube.

On The Horizon

Organic salad blends will continue to evolve. San Miguel Produce’s Ichimoto foresees the incorporation of more and a greater variety of specialty and hard-to-find greens.

St. Geme agrees. “We continue to invest in new technologies to engineer packaging to enable more lettuce varieties to live together in order to offer unique and flavorful blends,” she says.

“We look to consumer trends and popular conventional blends for our future inspiration. Consumers are seeking bolder flavors within the convenient fresh meal solutions, salads and fresh-cut produce space, and this carries into organic options,” says Ready Pac’s Simpson.