While side dishes typically make up either a small portion or the entire line of a commissary’s products, it’s never been a better time to expand upon those offerings, be it with something cutting-edge and adventurous, a regular staple of the American diet, or a little of both.

For Freshway Foods, that means salads. While they’ve been producing salad kits for supermarkets and other retailers since 2004, the company expanded its retail team to maximize their offerings in the market in 2013 and has seen considerable success, says Chef Douglas Bond, new product development manager for the manufacturer.

“Freshway offers a variety of salads for both deli case and grab-and-go applications,” he says. “Side dishes, in the form of salad kits, are an ever-growing category for Freshway.”
This is primarily because of the kit format and evolving flavor profiles of their offerings, he says.

“By bringing in these side dishes in kit format, as opposed to individual ingredients, stores can offer fresh, healthy side dishes without adding significant labor. We refresh our product line at least twice a year, enabling foodservice and retail operators to take advantage of the current menu and ingredient trends.”

According to Nielsen Perishables Group, prepared deli side dishes only contribute about 1.4 percent of dollar sales to the supermarket deli department itself, but nonetheless, the sides which have grown the most over the last year have interesting implications for those commissaries that specialize in or are considering branching out into the area.

While 1.4 percent may not sound like a lot, growth in sales of prepared side dishes in the deli department has been considerable in the last year, says Haley Hastings, associate marketing manager for Nielsen.

By all accounts, grocery shoppers have become both more health-conscious and more prone to picking up prepared sides to supplement their dinners. This makes their hectic lives a little easier in the evening, and that is something that Freshway has capitalized on.

“Consumers are looking for healthier side dish options,” Bond says, “but they still want great flavor and a culinary adventure. Our new healthy salads offer both, with lighter dressings, vibrant colors, plant-based proteins and a little bit of spice.”

If your commissary is looking to expand its own offerings to supermarkets, a subcategory like salads is a good direction to go in. Prepared sides in supermarket delis are experiencing marked growth, Hastings says, as well as a surprising uptick in vegetable components.

“Dollar sales increased 7 percent and volume sales nearly 4 percent during the latest 52 weeks ending July 2, which shows a sustained demand for deli side products,” she says. “This fits with what we’re seeing across the store and within the deli department. Shoppers are looking for meal solutions to fit their increasingly busy lifestyles, whether it’s fully cooked or they’re just grabbing sides. This is backed up by the fact that deli side-dish dollar sales had a compound annual growth rate of 8.4 percent from 2011 to 2015.”

Hastings also noted that with the exception of corn and bean sides, which decreased in dollar sales by 13.4 and 10.9 percent, the prepared sides that have made the biggest dollar gains within those 52 weeks were almost entirely vegetable-based dishes. This includes spinach, regular and sweet potato, and broccoli especially, increasing by a dramatic 16.7 percent.

Other sides have sunk in popularity at the deli counter, though because they make up such a small portion of total deli sales, their decline didn’t impact overall sales by much, Hastings says. Keeping that in mind, it’s still worth noting that those subcategories that fell most dramatically during the year measured were couscous, which decreased by -35.1 percent, and scalloped/baked apples, which fell by -23.2 percent.