While consumers cooked at home more often in 2021, meal planning and the time it takes to cook is still a barrier.
Prepared side dishes allow home cooks more time to focus on prepping a simple main dish recipe and still have the satisfaction of cooking at home.
“We anticipate further growth and desire for more variety and flavors in sides,” said Nathan Roe, senior manager for deli strategy and customer marketing for Beaverton, Ore.-based Reser’s Fine Foods. “In addition to our spring side offerings, we plan to continue to introduce culinary twists on favorite recipes.”
The three newest hot deli sides from Reser’s are Garlic Parmesan Mashed Potatoes, White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese, and Macaroni & Cheese with Bacon. All three launched regionally in October and are expected to be in national distribution by this spring — which, based on the reception, can’t come soon enough for Reser’s.
“So far, consumer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” Roe said.
In 2021, Medina, Ohio-based Sandridge Food Corp. launched three new Grandma’s Brand refrigerated salads, all of which have been well-received, said Assistant Brand Manager Adam Cordea.
An Italian Style Pasta Salad, a Rotini Parmesano Pasta Salad, and a Zesty Garden Pasta Salad join the ranks of Sandridge’s legacy Grandma’s Brand items.
“They’ve been sold to over a dozen customers, and we’re excited to watch them grow into what we know they can become,” Cordea said.
Top sellers for Sandridge include longtime Grandma’s favorites like Potato Salad and Cole Slaw, as well as Sandridge Deli Style Chicken Salad and Ham Salad.
“They’re items that are not only great tasting, but that people know, trust, and want in their deli departments or in their homes at all times,” Cordea said. “These recipes were birthed from a blend of innovation and culinary excellence, and they’re items that have become staples of households and operators around the country.”
Reser’s top hot sides behind the glass in grocery meat departments are its Main St Bistro Baked Scalloped Potatoes, Baked Macaroni & Cheese and Baked Roasted Potatoes.
Under the Reser’s brand in the deli, top sellers are Macaroni & Cheese and Creamy Mashed Potatoes.
When it comes to cold sides, Reser’s Deviled Egg Potato and Original Potato salads head the list, Roe said, with Macaroni Salad not far behind.
Consumers want to check a lot of boxes when it comes to all of their fresh perimeter foods these days, and hot and cold deli sides are no exception.
But Reser’s, like so many other suppliers and their retail partners, finds that it often comes down to two old reliables found on that consumer checklist.
“Customer feedback has consistently been about quality and taste,” Roe said. “They really love the restaurant-quality taste of our Main St Bistro baked side dishes, which can be microwaved or put in the oven for that great baked taste without all the preparation.”
And when it comes to deli salads, Reser’s is continually surprised by the new usages customers find for them, he added.
COVID’s impact, short- and long-term
2022 will be a strong year for side dishes, particularly those sold packaged in the deli department, Roe said. As consumers have returned to more consistent shopping behavior, they’ve been combining family favorites like macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes with simple fresh salads and vegetables.
“While the core ingredients for these typical sides are the same as what they’ve been for years – potatoes, pasta, cauliflower, beans – consumers are buying macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes in more advanced stages of preparation, or with ingredient or flavor tweaks to make them more than ordinary.”
With time constraints and kitchen fatigue play such big roles in consumer decisions these days —and with the desire to keep meals delicious, interesting, affordable, and easy to prepare — most households, Roe said, have found supermarket options just as flavorful, and simultaneously cheaper and even more convenient, than restaurant alternatives.
Side dish sales from the hot case have not come back from the pandemic lows as robustly as many chains and distributors had hoped, Roe said.
With the breadth, convenience, and variety of pre-packaged options – including those assembled fresh in-store – Reser’s has seen many hot cases permanently converted into other uses.
“There are still many retailers who can and do execute hot case programs successfully, but it takes patience and a commitment to accept a long-term view for their survival,” he said.
In the COVID Era, Sandridge has heard from customers that demand for packaged sides has gone up while hot case sales have suffered at times. Ease of preparation, portability, and increased food safety, Cordea said, have allowed packaged sides to flourish versus hot case sides, which are sometimes handled by more than one person.
“Hot cases serve their purpose and boast some advantages, but products already packaged have multiple benefits that cannot be replicated at a hot case,” he said.
COVID, Cordea said, has also shifted consumer purchasing habits inside the grocery store. Comfort foods and foods that are familiar to consumers — including ready-to-eat sides — have flourished and will continue to do so even as consumer confidence rises to pre-pandemic levels.
“We rely on some of our core Sandridge items, like refrigerated salads, because they’re products that taste good while also being products our customers and consumers know they can trust,” he said. “We intend to continue providing the best tasting products in all of our categories, deli salads included. Deli salads have been a focus of ours since our company’s origin and they will forever be near and dear to our hearts.”