KANSAS CITY — The demand for salad kits and other fresh, convenient and healthy options continues to grow. According to FMI’s 2021 Power of Produce report, sales of value-added lettuce and other fresh produce came to $15.5 billion, or 22.3% of total produce sales.

Expect those numbers to keep climbing — more than three in 10 shoppers, according to FMI, said they will purchase more value-added produce in the upcoming year, and at higher rates than were reported in the previous four years.

During the pandemic, food safety concerns were at an all-time high and there was a strong demand for salad kits, said Tal Shoshan, CEO of Ontario, Calif.-based FiveStar Gourmet Foods.

For FiveStar, that translated into brisk movement of the company’s new Value Plus line of its Simply Fresh Salads, which addresses food safety concerns while also appealing to price-conscious consumers, Shoshan said.

The Value Plus line features familiar classics like Chicken Caesar Salad with Lemon Caesar Dressing, Cranberry Walnut Salad with Very Berry Vinaigrette and Asian Sesame Salad with Honey Sesame Dressing.

“They’ve sold exceptionally well given that during the pandemic many consumers were much more money-cautious,” Shoshan said. “Keeping up with this high demand, while maintaining our excellent quality produce, was key to our success throughout the worst part of the pandemic and beyond.”

And even with the worst of the pandemic over, FiveStar has continued to see strong growth. The top driver now, Shoshan said, is the company’s Simply Fresh Premium Salads. Top sellers in the category range from Santa Fe Style Salad with Chicken and Ultimate BLT Salad with Chicken to Taco Salad – Made with Beyond Meat to the family-sized Fig & Walnut Salad, one of the company’s newer offerings.   

During the height of the pandemic and with stay-at-home orders in effect, consumers were much more open to trying and experimenting with new items and this resulted in consumers doing more in-home scratch cooking. As the pandemic continued on, consumers looked for more convenient options to make their lives easier, especially as they became fatigued with cooking at home, and now have become accustomed to these more convenient options which they continue to seek out today.

In 2020, FiveStar introduced its SimplyFresh 2GO line, a line extension of the Simply Fresh brand. One year later, Shoshan said, it’s thriving.

“It’s been a huge success. So many consumers were seeking convenient, fresh solutions for at-home use during the pandemic. Our customers raved about the line and were particularly impressed with the quality and variety of our offerings.”

Shoshan expects one lasting legacy of COVID to be greater attention to foods that consumers perceive as having health benefits. 

FiveStar, for instance, is tracking growing demand for immunity-boosting products that promote an active and healthy lifestyle coupled with millennials’ busy schedules. 

Looking ahead, FiveStar will continue to search for new shelf-life extension options, ranging from packaging improvements to film innovation, which are enabling fresh to be incorporated into more products and processes, Shoshan said. 

“We’re always looking for ways to improve quality and maintain high food safety standards and utilize the latest technology to do so.”

Four new kits from Fresh Express

Thanks to COVID, more people are looking for new, easy meal solutions at home. At the same time, consumers want more nutritious options. 

With those two facts in mind, Windermere, Fla.-based Fresh Express introduced four new salad kits in March, said Michael Golderman , marketing brand leader. They include Bacon Thousand Island, Kickin’ Bacon Ranch and Italian Balsamic (targeted to all consumers); and Spinach & Bacon Lettuce (aimed at millennials and Gen Xers). 

Spinach & Bacon Lettuce is an old favorite made even better with some new twists, Golderman said.

“We added delicious toppings like smoky uncured bacon bits and mesquite smoked slivered almonds, all atop tender baby spinach, crisp red cabbage, and carrots. And the dressing is the ultimate touch — popular sweet onions and a perfectly balanced Dijon dressing.”

Italian Balsamic, meanwhile, is being pitched as an easy way to provide delicious, cost-efficient, restaurant-inspired solutions for time pressed consumers. The salad features a bed of iceberg and green leaf lettuce and radicchio tossed with a white balsamic vinaigrette and topped with focaccia croutons and an Italian cheese blend.

Kickin’ Bacon Ranch Chopped provides the flavors of classic jalapeno poppers without the heat, Golderman said.

“We layer in uncured smoky bacon bits and cheddar tortillas strips with crisp red and green cabbage, green leaf lettuce, carrots and green onions, all smothered with a creamy jalapeño ranch dressing.”

The fourth new salad from Fresh Express, Bacon Thousand Island, features iceberg and green leaf lettuce topped with honey butter cornbread crisps, Parmesan cheese crisps, uncured smoky bacon bits and a creamy bacon thousand island dressing.

Chopped, ranch and pepper: three can’t misses

In July, Charlotte, N.C.-based Dole Food Co. added to its DOLE Chopped! Salad line with the introduction of two new salads:

  • DOLE Buffalo Ranch Chopped! Salad, a blend of DOLE Green Cabbage, Green Leaf Lettuce, Kale, Red Cabbage, Carrots, blue cheese crumbles, fried onions and Dole’s Buffalo Ranch Dressing; 
  • DOLE Peppercorn Ranch Chopped! Salad which combines DOLE Iceberg, Green Leaf Lettuce, Red Cabbage, Carrots and Radishes with crumbled cornbread croutons, crushed black peppercorn and Dole’s Peppercorn Ranch Dressing.

The kits sell for a suggested retail price (SRP) of $3.99.

Bil Goldfield, Dole’s director of corporate communications, said the new offerings take advantage of two facts: ranch is the top salad dressing choice, and black pepper is the top spice.

Dole is also planning more additions to the DOLE Chopped! and DOLE FreshTakesÔ ready-to-eat (RTE) salad lines, with announcements expected before the end of the year, Goldfield said.

Despite a measured return to “normal,” family life remains as frantic and busy as ever, if not more so, which continues to drive demand for convenience-oriented kits and ready-to-eat salad lines, Goldfield said. For Dole, that meant the expansion of its FreshTakesÔ RTE line from limited to national distribution.

“Demand for salad kits overall continues to grow feverishly while supplies rush to catch up,” Goldfield said. “Chopped salad kits remain the biggest driver of growth in the salad and vegetable category, and Dole is building on its legacy in chopped salad kits by launching on-trend, flavor-forward new additions to its Chopped! line.”

The impact of the pandemic also cannot be overstated, Goldfield added. Store shelves were wiped clean at the onset of the lockdowns. Dole experienced increased demand in both packaged salads and its commodity produce, as consumers recognized the need for nutritious foods during shelter-in-place orders and as stores remained open and operational.

While demand for many products has since returned to normal levels, salads continue to outperform as convenience still resonates, he said. 

“We continue to see spikes in demand for packaged salads in warmer months – a phenomenon that will no doubt intensify this year as the country continues to open up and return to at least an assemblance of normal.”

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