Salad Toppers Add Excitement To Produce Offerings

Tropical Foods Salad PacksPhoto Courtesy of Tropical Foods

Although consumers want healthier options, they also create favor and texture

The days of ho-hum salads are long gone. A wide variety of salad toppers is injecting tasty flavors and interesting textures to salads, while often boosting their nutritional value.

Stacey Miller, director of business development for Litehouse Inc., located in Sandpoint, ID, says the increased popularity of salad toppers reflects the trend that consumers are trying to eat healthier and want cleaner ingredients. Trends also show they are shopping more in the perimeter of a store and looking for fresher, healthier options, according to Miller.

“Even though consumers are seeking healthier options, they are still looking for ways to enhance the flavor of their meal,” says Miller.

“We see consumers adding fresh veggies, cheese and proteins to their salads to make up a tasty meal they can feel good about. Salad toppers also allow consumers to make the dish their own and customize it to their taste preference.”

Chad Hartman, director of marketing for Tropical Foods, located in Charlotte, NC, says people are eating more salads because they want to eat healthier, save money or both. But, they still crave flavor and texture.

Hartman says nuts, dried fruit and seeds are growing in popularity as salad toppers. Nuts, such as sliced almonds, pecans, walnuts and pine nuts, offer a crunchy element. Since they are high in unsaturated fats, they are good for your heart, and they can help lower your cholesterol.

Dried fruits, such as blueberries and cranberries, add a hint of sweetness and texture to salad. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower kernels, as well as pepita, poppy and chia seeds make excellent toppers.

Wide Selection Available

Tropical Foods offers four topping combinations as part of its My Salad Bar line, which is designed to add extra flavor and crunch to salads. Each combination has four toppings. The bold mix features honey roasted peanuts, golden raisins, pumpkin seeds and black bean sticks. The Indian Cuisine mix includes spiced rice flour noodles, crispy fried lentils, whole lentils with lentil twigs and fried split chickpeas. The original mix features walnuts, cranberries, sunflower seeds and sesame sticks, while the crunch mix offers sesame salad bits, mini fruit mix, blackened pumpkin seeds and soybeans.

Consumers have a wide selection of salad toppers, and that selection is expected to expand in the future.

Litehouse has offered blue cheese and Feta cheese crumbles for the past several years. This year, the company added Litehouse Finely Crumbled Blue and Feta Cheeses with a convenient shaker top lid. It also offers freeze-dried herbs that can be used as a salad topper.

Mary Ellen Mooney, president of Mooney Farms, based in Chico, CA, says salads are about more than the lettuce. “It’s about the toppings.” Mooney Farms’ Bella Sun Luci brand has three sun-dried tomato flavor options that come in resealable pouches. Mooney says sales of Bella Sun Luci salad toppers are up 30 percent.

“Many people now have a salad as a meal or main dish,” says Dana Kucharik, marketing supervisor for House Foods, headquartered in Garden Grove, CA. “Salad alone, however, doesn’t provide the protein needed for a healthy diet. Tofu, and other salad toppers, can help create a wholesome, more nutrient-dense dish.”

Kucharik says Organic Tofu Cutlets and Organic Cubed Tofu are the company’s most popular salad toppers. “As consumers continue to look for meat alternatives and plant-based proteins, we foresee tofu sales continuing to grow steadily,” she says.

Packages of imitation bacon bits and salad toppings, consisting of crispy pieces of carrots, toasted onion flakes, flakes of tomatoes, soy nut, sunflower seeds and bacon flavored bits have been strong performers for Concord Foods.

“Salad toppers have been a very strong, growing segment,” says Samantha McCaul, marketing manager for Concord Foods, headquartered in Brockton, MA. “We have seen a significant increase in the sales of our imitation bacon bits.”

McCaul says the company has kept a close watch on the sales of nuts, fruits and grains. As a result, it is planning to launch a new brand of salad toppers — Concord Fresh Success. The products will contain no artificial coloring or flavors.

“The products will feature ingredients consumers, who desire to eat healthier, want. The ingredients include chickpeas, dehydrated fruit and soybeans,” she says.

Huge Impulse Buy

Hartman says salad toppers typically have a long shelf life and are a huge impulse buy. They benefit greatly from being displayed in the produce department.

“Anytime you can merchandise with like items, you will help increase sales and keep the items top-of-mind for consumers,” stresses Miller. “It also makes it easier for the shoppers if they don’t have to shop in several areas of the store.”

A substantial profit margin, ranging from 20 to 50 percent, incentivizes retailers to devote significant space to salad toppers.

McCaul agrees that salad toppers should be displayed adjacent, or as close as possible, to produce. Retailers can hang Concord Foods’ packages of imitation bacon bits and salad toppings at eye-level with bagged lettuce or other greens.

Salad toppers are just one of many items competing for space in the produce department. Understandably, there is no commonly accepted minimum or maximum amount of space that should be allotted to salad toppers.

Litehouse’s Miller says the amount of space depends on the value of item and the appeal to the consumer. “Some toppers are going to have higher velocity than others, which is going to warrant more space. Cheese, for example, ranks as the second highest preferred salad ingredient, after lettuce, in a survey on”

Mooney says since Bella Sun Luci products are already in the produce department, just regrouping items together will drive sales and profits. “Customers love finding everything they need in one location and also creates sales of multiple produce items when it’s easy to find,” she says.

Substantial Profit Margin

A substantial profit margin, ranging from 20 to 50 percent incentivizes retailers to devote significant space to salad toppers.

Cross merchandising with non-produce products is an effective vehicle to increase a shopper’s basket size, and in turn, grow profitable sales.

“When more items are displayed together, the consumer will see that buying all of the items together will create a healthy and delicious meal,” says Mooney Farms’ Mooney.

Because produce needs to be kept fresh, it’s easier to move grocery into the produce department. Cross merchandising in the produce department will help capture sales that might have been missed once the consumer leaves the department.

Mooney recommends calling attention to cross-merchandising displays with enticing and informative signage.

Although salad toppers offer a natural tie-in with lettuce and other greens, promotion seems to be lacking, according to Hartman. “We would like to see more promotions. Most of the promotions we see are for lettuce and salad dressings.”

Hartman says sometimes he’ll see a coupon for “buy a bag of lettuce and receive 50 percent off a salad topper.” Kucharik says a sample promotion has been “buy two salads, get one tofu free.”

Mooney says an added appeal for many salad toppers is that they are packed in convenient, re-closeable zip lock bags for easy application and re-sealing, keeping the product fresh and ready to use. They also are portable, easy to toss in a lunch bag for work or when traveling. This is extremely important because more people are packing their lunches and eating at work.

Displaying recipes is an effective way to make sure your consumers know salad toppers can be used in other ways, too. They make great additions to pastas, soups, dips and can be eaten as a snack. Expanding awareness of the multiple uses of salad toppers can increase your sales.

Outlook is Bright

The outlook for salad toppers is bright.

Miller says: “People are continuing to search for ways to eat healthier and feel good about what they are putting into their bodies. They want real ingredients, cleaner ingredients and a full-flavored meal they can feel good about eating.”

“Healthy eating is only growing and will continue to be the main driver when consumers select products at the grocery store,” says Mooney. “Nutrition is on everyone’s mind today. As American tastes evolve, the market for exciting new spices, seasonings and herbs continues to expand.”

Salad toppers are still in the early trending stage, offers Tropical Foods’ Hartman. “I think sales will continue to increase in the future.”