Salad kits are one of the top sellers in vegetable dollar sales.
Originally printed in the October 2023 issue of Produce Business.
A friend whose advertising career started in the 1960s Mad Men era recently shared a surprising observation. That is, he said if someone told him back then that chopped lettuce in a bag would sell, he would have told them they were nuts. I didn’t add fuel to the folly by asking him what he thought about croutons and dressing in with that lettuce.
Today, salad kits rank third in the top 10 of vegetable dollar sales in 2022, behind tomatoes and potatoes, and totaling $3.3 billion, according to the December 2022-released report, Produce Closes Out the Year on a High Note, Setting New Records, by Anne-Marie Roerink, president, 210 Analytics for the International Fresh Produce Association.
“Long-lasting freshness, convenience, and restaurant quality available at an everyday value are the top trends driving demand for salad kits,” says Aaron Sumption, senior vice president of sales for Local Bounti, a Hamilton, MT-headquartered indoor agricultural company that produces salad kits.
“According to the 2022 Power of Produce (from FMI — The Food Industry Association), salad kits were the fastest growing subcategory within produce, seeing growth of 13.5% in dollar sales and exceeding the overall category growth of 3.3%.”
Since 2019, total U.S. households purchasing salad kits increased by 2.1%, adds Fabian Pereira, vice president of Fresh Express, a leading value-added salad manufacturer based in Salinas, CA, and a subsidiary of Chiquita Brands International. “The total number of buyers increased by 3.8 million and demographics for the category have seen an increase in the 25-34 and 65-plus age range, single-person households, and Caucasian buyers — all with an increase of 62 million trips to the store.”
STOCK BEST-SELLERS — CAESAR RULES
Chopped salad kits with cabbage and kale as ingredients are best-sellers at Morton Williams Supermarkets, a 16-store chain based in Bronx, NY, according to produce director Marc Goldman.
In terms of flavors, Caesar rules.
“The timeless appeal of the Caesar salad, coupled with the convenience of our pre-cut ingredients and flavorful dressing, make it a go-to choice for many customers,” says Tal Shoshan, chief executive of FiveStar Gourmet Foods, in Ontario, CA, about the company’s premium Caesar salad bowls.
In July, the company debuted its new Organic Caesar Salad Shaker, under its Simply Fresh Salads brand, as an exclusive of Costco stores in Los Angeles, CA. The patented shaker bowl design, made with recycled water bottles, which extends shelf life, lets consumers open the ingredient pouches, snap on the lid, shake, and then eat mess-free in the same container.
Creamy Caesar Baby Butter Lettuce Kit is the top mover for Olivia’s Organics, a brand of State Garden Inc., in Chelsea, MA.
“We use baby butter lettuce, which has a similar texture and flavor profile to romaine, but without the potential issues,” says Ken Reagan, vice president of sales and marketing. “Our kits are 100% organic, from the lettuce to each of the components. There aren’t many 100% organic salad kits on the market.”
“Some of our best-selling flavors of Fresh Express brand salad kits stem from one of the company’s newest lines, Twisted Caesar Chopped Salad Kits. These combine the traditional Caesar salad with an unexpected yet delicious flavor twist, such as Asian Caesar, avocado Caesar, lemon Caesar, pesto Caesar and Greek Caesar,” says Fresh Express’ Pereira.
In addition, the company has introduced four new chef-crafted salad kits.
One is the Twisted Caesar Enchilada Caesar Chopped Salad Kit, a blend of greens paired with chili lime tortilla crisps, dried sweet corn, Mexican cheese blend and green enchilada Caesar dressing.
The other three are the French Bistro Chopped Salad Kit, a blend of iceberg and green leaf lettuce, shredded carrots, red cabbage, garlic brioche croutons, shaved Romano cheese and French honey Dijon dressing; a Smokehouse Chopped Salad Kit, with lettuce, carrots, red cabbage, barbecue croutons, shredded smoked Gouda and a creamy bacon dressing; and French Blue Cheese Salad Kit, with baby spinach, a spring mix blend, red cabbage, carrots, mini garlic brioche croutons, blue cheese crumbles and French blue cheese dressing.
Caesar continues to rule in two latest items for Local Bounti, with one being an Artisanal Chicken Caesar kit. This features greenhouse-grown romaine with ABF white chicken meat, parmesan cheese, savory croutons and Romano Caesar dressing. The other is a Memphis Style BBQ Chicken kit. In addition to romaine, the kit contains honey hickory seasoned ABF white meat chicken, corn and black bean salsa, pickled red and crispy fried onions, pepper jack cheese and a signature barbecue ranch dressing.
This fall, Mann Packing Co., Inc., a subsidiary of Fresh Del Monte N.A., Inc. headquartered in Coral Gables, FL, introduced two new Asian-inspired salad kits in collaboration with P.F. Chang’s, a globally recognized Asian Culinary brand. These also include a Caesar. One is an Asian Caesar Salad Kit, with romaine, parmesan, toasted sesame seeds and wonton croutons, and the second is a Mandarin Crunch Salad Kit, with julienned vegetables, cabbage, mandarin orange, almonds, rice sticks and a mandarin vinaigrette. The kits are available now at Giant Eagle and select retailers nationwide.
“The key difference with these salad kits is that the promise of a ‘restaurant quality’ meal is backed by the P.F. Chang’s brand, which has over 85% brand awareness and leverages the same recipes that consumers can know and love at their favorite P.F. Chang’s restaurant. This marks a historic collaboration between P.F. Chang’s, a leading restaurant brand, and Mann Packing Co., a renowned grower, packer and shipper in the fresh produce industry,” says Melissa Mackay, vice president of marketing.
Later this year, Olivia’s Organics plans to introduce an Organic Southwest Salad kit, which includes baby spinach, tortilla strips and a dressing, and an Organic Greek Salad kit based on spring mix with feta cheese, olives and a proprietary Greek dressing.
In an out-of-the-box flavor direction, Braga Fresh Foods, LLC, in Salinas, CA, introduced two organic vegan chopped salad kits in July under its Josie’s Organics label. One is Aloha BBQ with the taste profiles of a Hawaiian barbecue with pineapple bits and vegan coconut bacon along with romaine, red and green cabbage, carrots, broccoli, green onions and sunflower seeds. The second is Avocado Goddess, with an avocado dressing, flatbread strips and “Goddess” seasoning flavor cabbage, romaine, carrots, broccoli, green onions and cumin lime pepitas.
FOUR WAYS TO SELL MORE
Driving awareness that leads to trial is essential for new items, says Mann’s Mackay. Consumers don’t spend as much time perusing the grocery shelves the way they did pre-COVID. Driving awareness outside of stores and then reinforcing that awareness in stores is key to getting attention.
“We have been experimenting with several different tactics to meet consumers at all levels of the purchase funnel from digital tactics like programmatic advertising and our new TikTok channel to leveraging promotional tactics like Ibotta and digital coupons to in-store signage and price promotions.”
In a crowded category like fresh-cut bagged salads, it’s important to make sure shoppers can find the salad kits and new kits stand out for best sales.
“We display in our value-added section like 90% of today’s retailers in self-facing trays,” says Jon Holder, vice president of produce and floral for Superior Grocers, a Santa Fe Springs, CA-headquartered chain of 70 stores operating under Superior Grocers, The Market by Superior and Numero Uno banner.
Build a Destination. “Create a branded destination for fresh-cut salad kits. The items do best when merchandised together adjacent to baby leaf categories,” says Local Bounti’s Sumption.
Fresh Express’ Pereira says it’s important for salad kit companies to work closely with retail partners to create planograms that are easy for customers to shop.
“For instance, we recommend rotating the shelf set by season to ensure key products shoppers are looking for are easy to locate, such as salad products with fruit flavor profiles during the summer season. We also merchandise salad products by subcategory (i.e., salad blends, salad kits) and use shelf tags that help customers quickly identify product flavors.”
Sign It. Companies like Fresh Express partner with retailers to add eye-catching header cards to the shelf set that enhance the overall appearance of the produce aisle, and provide in-store flyers for instant education for consumers while shopping.
“When introducing new kits, we encourage retailers to put up point-of-sale materials like shelf talkers,” says Pereira.
Cross-Merchandise. This tactic might seem counter-intuitive since salad kits are self-contained. Yet, it can be effective.
“Collaborate with other departments in the store, such as the bakery or deli, to create cross-promotional displays and meal solutions. This approach caters to consumers seeking convenient and balanced meal solutions,” says FiveStar Gourmet’s Shoshan.
Sample. Taste sampling can entice shoppers to try and buy a new product.
“Set up a demonstration station in-store where customers can sample. Staff the station with knowledgeable employees who can highlight the ingredients and provide samples for customers to taste. Promote the demo station through signage and social media to attract customers and increase sales. This hands-on approach allows customers to experience the quality and flavors of the salads, boosting their likelihood of purchasing,” says Shoshan.
Promote. “We typically run kits twice per month on ad,” says Superior Grocers’ Holder.
“We prioritize digital and in-store coupons as consumers return to shopping in-store. For example, each of our new items includes an instant redeemable coupon on the packaging to drive trial and encourage consumers to try a new flavor,” adds Pereira. After all, “we know that the total dollars spent in the store is higher when salads are in the shopping basket.”
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ARE SALAD KITS IN COMPETITION WITH SALAD BARS?
Are salad kits in competition with salad bars? Yes and no.
“We carry salad kits, but they aren’t huge sellers since we also have a full salad bar and deli-prepared salads in our stores,” says Marc Goldman, produce director at Morton Williams Supermarkets, a 16-store chain based in Bronx, NY.
However, “a lot of retailers haven’t gone back to salad bars post-pandemic,” says Ken Reagan, vice president of sales and marketing for Olivia’s Organics, a brand of State Garden, Inc., in Chelsea, MA.
Indeed, 62% of shoppers are still concerned, 25% highly and 37% somewhat, about getting COVID-19 while shopping, according to Consumer Trends in Food Shopping Today, a Nov. 7, 2022-published report in FMI — The Food Industry Association’s SmartBrief newsletter.
There’s another difference, too.
Salad bar items are typically ‘to-go’ options from the deli/food service department, and consumed away from home, while fresh-cut salad kits are mainly purchased for at-home consumption, tells Fabian Pereira, vice president of Fresh Express, a leading value-added salad manufacturer based in Salinas, CA, and a subsidiary of Chiquita Brands International.
Salad bar penetration is not as high as the fresh-cut salad kit category, but salad bars do over-index in higher-end grocery stores with more hot and cold food departments spotlighting convenience, Pereira adds. “With fresh-cut salads being a $7.3 billion category and 84% of households purchasing annually, we’re still seeing a lot of opportunity to hook consumers with innovation, especially our latest kits inspired by global cuisine.”