KANSAS CITY, MO. - Commissaries, wholesalers and grocery retailers continue to work with their supplier partners on meeting ever-evolving consumer needs for value-added salads.

Fortunately, it’s a category that continues to innovate, with new products tapping into leading trends rolling out on a regular basis. 

The Woodlands, Texas-based Fresh Food Group offers an extensive assortment of chef-crafted, clean ingredient and natural salads and vegetable sides perfect for behind the glass programs, in hot or cold presentations or as grab-and-go solutions, said William Andersen, the company’s president and CEO.

“Our varieties range from exotic and ancient grain salads to time-honored family classics,” he said. “Every salad comes with its own unique dressing designed to enhance the flavor, texture and shelf life. Our freshly prepared vegetable sides are perfect for serving on their own or customizing with additional ingredients to create unique, craveable signature salads.”

Quinoa-based and Greek salads remain consistent performers for the Fresh Food Group, Andersen said.

Some of the fastest-growing salad categories for the company include:

  • “Superfoods salads,” especially those that call out protein content
  • People are turning to plant-forward proteins. Beyond Burger and meatless Mondays have more consumers looking for proteins from plant-based sources, Andersen said. Fresh Food Group salads are packed with proteins from a large variety of legumes and protein-rich grains like quinoa.
  • Coleslaw appears to be making a comeback. Slaws also have versatility for made-to-order sandwich and salad programs.
  • Overall, the behind the glass salad section has been in decline as younger consumers favor grab-and-go and foodservice-style options, Andersen said. As a result, Fresh Food Group sees growth in items that come in a variety of applications.

Plant-based, global, fighting shrink


Fresh Food Group is also tracking several trends with applications in the salad space, Andersen said:

  • Plant-based — many of the company’s salads contain healthy, plant-based proteins such as quinoa and beans.
  • Mixed applications – stores are looking for solutions to reduce shrink. As a result, Fresh Food Group customers are asking for salads that can be used in mixed applications. The company’s salads and sides can be offered behind the glass, in hot or cold bars or packaged for grab-and-go.
  • Globally inspired flavors – to delight increasingly global taste preferences, Fresh Food Group offers a range of bold, chef-crafted flavors, such as a Mexico-inspired street corn salad and a pea and edamame-based Asian salad. Mediterranean flavors consistently perform well in the fresh salad category, Andersen said.
  • Fresh Food Group also boasts a line of freshly prepared vegetable sides and salad kits that are ideal for mixed applications.
  • “The pack size is optimal for behind the glass and self-serve cases,” Andersen said. “They can also be mixed with in-house proteins to create hearty grab-and-go salad solutions.”

Innovation is key in keeping this category exciting and relevant for millennial consumers who crave variety, Andersen added. Fresh Food Group’s innovation team provides outstanding culinary support and recipe development to the company’s customers, he said.  

Greenhouse-grown, local on the rise


West Caldwell, NJ-based distributor FreshPro Food Distributors sells a variety of fresh salad products to its retail partners, including Earthbound Farms, Fresh Express, Satur Farms, Gotham Greens, Ready Pac, Mann’s and Living Greens.

The company also does private-label salad programs for retail, said Joey Granata, director of produce sales.

Fresh Express and Earthbound Farms continue to be FreshPro’s top selling items, but greenhouse-grown product from companies like Gotham Greens and Living Greens has cut into those sales, Granata said.

Heightened food safety concerns have been one of the drivers beyond the expansion in greenhouse-grown for FreshPro.

“With the recent scares with romaine, the greenhouse-grown items have become more popular,” Granata said. “And with more and more of these greenhouse-grown showing up, it will put pressure on the traditional salad companies.”

In addition to greenhouse-grown, locally-sourced lettuce, chopped salads and salad kits are trends FreshPro is tracking closely, with an increasing number of SKUs added to the company’s retail product roster.

The salad category continues to evolve, and the key, Granata said, is to have something for everybody.

“We try to offer as many varieties as possible,” he said. “Each customer has their own best-sellers, and we try to accommodate as much as possible.”

Following foodservice’s lead

By Rebekah Schouten

Fresh Express

Fresh Express is putting three twists on the traditional Caesar salad with its new line of Twisted Caesar Chopped Salad Kits.

“Infused with international and trending flavors and ingredients, like wonton strips, avocado and dried pineapple, the new Chopped Salad Kits offer familiar favorites with unexpected, mouth-watering twists,” Fresh Express said.

The Twisted Asian Caesar kit contains romaine lettuce, crunchy wonton strips, black sesame seeds, dried pineapple, grated Parmesan cheese and Asian Caesar dressing. Each bag contains 2.5 190-calorie servings.

The Twisted Avocado Caesar kit includes yellow and blue tortilla strips, romaine lettuce, corn kernels, grated Parmesan cheese and Avocado Caesar dressing. Each bag contains 2.5 130-calorie servings.

The Twisted Greek Caesar kit features herbed flatbread strips, crumbled feta cheese, romaine lettuce and Greek Caesar dressing. Each bag contains 2.5 90-calorie servings.

“Our newest Chopped Salad Kits were inspired by popular restaurant menu offerings and trending flavors, as well as a healthy dose of creativity,” said Fabian Pereira, vice-president of marketing and innovation at Fresh Express, a subsidiary of Chiquita Brands International. “The talented chefs at the Fresh Express Innovation Center put new twists on the classic Caesar salad to bring an exciting, flavorful, chef-inspired experience to consumers and more variety in a fast-growing segment.”

Fresh Express Twisted Caesar Chopped Salad Kits are available in the refrigerated produce department at retailers nationwide for a suggested retail price of $3.99.