Beyond the kale: American foodies seek exotic, elaborate, and upscale packaged salads

Beyond the kale: American foodies seek exotic, elaborate, and upscale packaged salads

Packaged salad’s a commodity? Foodies may not think so. And that’s a lot of us. More than one-third of consumers explicitly identify themselves as foodies, according to Packaged Facts’ January/February 2014 consumer survey. In addition 60% enjoy trying new foods and beverages, a hallmark of foodie-ism.

King Kale - Who’d a thunk it? “Consumers are being more adventurous in produce choices,” says Melissa Hehmann, a Registered Dietitian with Meijer, the Michigan-based grocery chain, where sales of bagged baby kale (Prince Kale?) skyrocketed by 200% between 2012 and 2013. Hehmann believes that if consumers enjoy kale, “they may reach for another unfamiliar green.” Swiss chard, perhaps, or turnip greens, or as organicgirl states definitively on its website, “Bok choy is the new kale.”

Experimentation - and Kale - in Foodservice. Fully one-fifth of consumers order salads when dining out because they want to try new varieties, reports Technomic, and kale salads are trending forward (“Left Side of the Menu: Soup & Salad Consumer Trend Report”). In fact, 60% of professional chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association expect kale salads to be a hot main dish/center of the plate menu trend in 2014.

Beyond the Kale. Marketers often observe foodservice trends before investing in new varieties or entirely new product lines. Most notably, Ready Pac’s Bistro Bowl brand of meal salads and new wrap kits are inspired by gourmet restaurant menu trends, featuring such innovations as red apple poppy seed dressing, artisan sesame seed tortillas, and fire-roasted edamame. Indeed, consumers’ eagerness to experiment with new foods, flavors, and world cuisines - nearly half of consumers surveyed by Packaged Facts enjoy trying out new international foods - have led to increasingly exotic, elaborate, and upscale packaged salads from a number of different marketers. Among the more unusual ingredients contained in new products are nutty quinoa, buckwheat soba noodles, black chia seeds, zesty crunchy pumpkin seed mix, wasabi arugula, and citrus herbs.

The Power of Protein. Another product trend that reflects consumers’ interests and preference has marketers incorporating protein-rich foods and toppings into their salad bowls and salad kits, with ingredients ranging from chicken and smoked meats; to cheeses and hard-boiled eggs; to nuts, seeds, and beans. As shown in Packaged Facts’ survey, more than one-quarter of consumers look for high-protein foods when grocery shopping; one-third are eating more protein these days; and one-fourth are in search of non-meat sources of protein.

Marketers can add further value to value-added produce and encourage product and brand trial by:

  • Mixing novelty greens (bok choy, chard, turnip greens) with decidedly familiar ones (spinach).
  • Providing prepared dressings and toppings that fully complement the salad’s “theme” (superfoods, Tuscan, BBQ) for a truly authentic, restaurant-style dining experience.
  • Including novel interpretations of well-known ingredients to spark interest and ensure brand differentiation, e.g., Fresh Express Gourmet Café’s cherry infused cranberry and almond crunch blend and its brown sugar-coated pumpkin seeds.
  • Offering vegetarian and vegan options as well as poultry and meats as part of protein-positioned product lines.

This blog is based in part on research featured in Packaged Facts’Branded Packaged Produce and Salads: U.S. Market Trends, published in May 2014. Add this report to your own intelligence library and receive a 5% discount during our promotional period effective through September 1, 2014. Use code PF06SALAD

-- Howard Waxman